Sunday 26 March 2017

Racquets: Niland planning to finish season on career high

Conor Niland. Photo: Getty Images
Conor Niland. Photo: Getty Images

Paddy Hickey

CONOR NILAND has an excellent chance of achieving the highest singles ranking position of his career as he heads into next week's ATP Challenger Tour event in Helsinki.

Niland peaked at No 145 in the ATP ladder on September 20, after netting 33 ranking points for advancing to the semi-finals of the Challenger tournament in Rennes, France.

On November 1, the Irish No 1 slipped down to 156, where he remained the following week, before improving nine places to 147 in the wake of collecting 29 ranking points for making the semi-finals of last week's Challenger event in Loughborough, England.

So the omens look favourable for Niland to dip below the 145 mark when he winds up his tournament programme for the year in the Finnish indoor hardcourt tournament.

Significantly, the Helsinki event, one of three Challengers scheduled for next week, has considerably higher ranking points on offer than Loughborough. Helsinki has a total prize fund of €106,000 compared to the Leicestershire tournament's €42,500, with the winner picking up 110 ranking points as against 80 for last week's champion.

The other respective ranking point figures are 65 against 48 for losing finalists, 40 against 29 for semi-finalists, 20 against 15 for quarter-finalists, and nine against seven for players making the second round in the 32-strong main draw.

For the rest of the tournament year Niland will only have eight points dropping off his ranking points total, which stands at 372 following 27 tournaments over the past year.

In late November last year, the Limerick native advanced to the second round of the ATP Challenger Tour event in Khanty-Mansiysk, and the points he netted on that occasion automatically drop off 12 months later.

Certainly, Niland will take a lot of encouragement from his performance in the Loughborough tournament where, as the No 5 seed, he dumped out top seed Bjorn Phau 6-3 6-4.

But he failed to reproduce a similar level of form when he was a red-hot favourite against 307-ranked Frederik Nielsen in the semi-finals, and lost 6-4 6-3.

Meanwhile, Colin O'Brien has improved 70 places in the singles world rankings following his run to the final of the ITF Futures event in Heraklion, Crete, last Saturday week.

O'Brien picked up 10 ranking points after finishing runner-up to Greece's Alexandros Jakupovic, and that resulted in the Dublin left-hander soaring from 681 to 611.

The Malahide man is now only seven places adrift of his career-high singles mark of 604 set on January 11 this year.

And he has closed to within five places of 606-ranked James McGee, the third Irish player in the world ladder, behind Niland and the injured Louk Sorensen, who dropped 35 places this week from 290 to 325.

At No 388, O'Brien is the second-placed Irish in the doubles world ranking list, seven places behind his regular pairs partner James Cluskey.

Irish Independent

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