Thursday 23 March 2017

Racquets: Missing out on Murray lifts Irish promotion hopes

Paddy Hickey

IRELAND'S prospects of clinching a Davis Cup promotion play-off place have been boosted by Britain's failure to beat Lithuania.

A high-profile second-round showdown against the 'auld enemy' in Dublin in July would have resulted if the British had managed to come up trumps in the Europe-Africa Zone Group Two tie in Vilnius.

It's a major disappointment for tennis fans in this country that John Lloyd's side won't be crossing the Irish Sea in four months' time -- world No 4 Andy Murray, who opted out of the tie with Lithuania, might well have returned to face Ireland, with the possibility of a promotion play-off in the offing.

However, the plus side in the wake of Ireland's emphatic 4-1 win over Turkey is that Sean Sorensen's troops should stand a better chance of beating the Lithuanians; there would be very long odds against them upsetting a British team containing Murray, twice a Grand Slam finalist.

Lithuania, despite their 3-2 success over the depleted British, are not formidable opposition and Ireland will fancy their chances of progressing to a promotion showdown with either Bulgaria or Slovenia in September.

The Lithuanians' top player, 19-year-old Ricardas Berankis, is ranked at No 195, compared to No 226 and No 241 for Louk Sorensen and Conor Niland. In 2007, Berankis was the top-ranked U-18 player in the world, and he won the US Junior Open.

The same year, at just 16, he faced Niland when Ireland and Lithuania clashed in the Davis Cup Group Three campaign in Cairo and pushed the Limerick man to a tie-break in the opener before the Irish player won out 7-6 (7/5) 6-0.

The Lithuanians' second singles player, Laurynas Grigelis, is even younger than Berankis at 18, but he proved himself a cool customer by defeating Britain's Dan Evans in the crucial tie-deciding contest, which went to five sets.

It is hoped that Louk Sorensen will be it to face the Lithuanians after missing the Turkish victory with a hamstring problem. He is due to undergo a scan today in Stuttgart to ascertain the full extent of the injury.

In the absence of the national No 1, Ireland surpassed expectations in beating Turkey so comfortably. After James McGee's victory over Haluk Akkouyn in the opening singles, Niland shocked world No 121 Marsel Ilhan, before McGee and Barry King set up an unbeatable 3-0 lead with success in the doubles.

And there was further good news for Irish tennis at the weekend when Limerick's Sam Barry won the boys' doubles title in the ITF U-18 Luxembourg Open, alongside and Tunisia's Slim Hamza. Barry and Hamza, who were the No 1 seeds, defeated the No 2 seeds, Poland's Maciez Smola and Ukraine's Leonard Stakovsky, 7-5 6-1 in the final.

Irish Independent

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