Friday 24 November 2017

Federer clash on offer if Niland clears first hurdle

Paddy Hickey

IRISH ace Conor Niland is set for a dream clash against Roger Federer if he survives his Wimbledon baptism tomorrow.

After becoming the first Irish player since Matt Doyle in 1984 to qualify for the main draw of the most prestigious tournament in tennis, world No 184 Niland has been paired against France's 53-ranked Adrian Mannarino in the first round.

The winner of that contest is almost certain to earn a second-round battle against record 16-time Grand Slam champion Federer, who is odds-on to overcome Kazakhstan's 60-ranked Mikhail Kukushkin in his opening contest.

"It would be fantastic to play Federer, and such a match would be on Centre Court or Court No 1", said Niland (29), who scored a 6-3 7-6 (7/5) 6-4 win over Croatia's Nikola Mektic in the final round of qualifying at the Roehampton club on Saturday.

"But I cannot afford to look beyond the match against Mannarino."

Amazingly, the Irish player has a superior head-to-head record against Federer (29), having beaten him in their only clash.

The two players crossed swords in an U-14 international team event in France back in 1995.

"I can't remember the actual score, but I know that I won the match in two sets," added Niland, who has never faced Federer since.

On his match against Mannarino (22), Niland said: "It's a reasonable draw for me. It would have been very hard for me against a top 10 or top 20 player, but against Mannarino it's a winnable match if I play as well as I can.

"A number of qualifiers have gone on to win a round or two at Wimbledon, so hopefully I can follow suit. I played Mannarino in a Futures (tournament) back in 2005 or 2006, and he beat me on that occasion. So hopefully I will turn the tables this time around.

"But I know it's not going to be easy to make it through to the second round."

Mannarino had a very good win last week in Queen's over 2009 US Open champion Juan Martin Del Potro after two tie-breaks.

"He's a left-hander which makes things more difficult with his swinging serve, he has a very good flat backhand, and he's very good feet when he comes to the net."

Niland is overjoyed at finally having made the Grand Slam breakthrough.

"Despite all my previous attempts I never gave up hope that I would achieve my goal at some stage," said Niland, who had previously played in 11 Grand Slam qualifying events.

"I could have made 30 unsuccessful attempts, so it's a fantastic feeling to realise that I've finally done the business."

On his match against Mektic, Niland said: "I broke him twice in the first set, and after no breaks in the second set, I played a very good tie-break.

"In the third set, I had a chance to win 6-3, but he saved four match points.

"However, I served out for the match in the next game, holding my serve to 15. I tried to be as aggressive as possible throughout the match and that approach worked out very well for me."

Wimbledon,

Live, BBC2/TG4, 12.0

Irish Independent

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