Thursday 22 February 2018

Niland vows to bounce back and blossom on Major stage

Paddy Hickey

CONOR NILAND has pledged to bounce back from his Wimbledon heartbreak and crack the first-round barrier in a Grand Slam event.

Niland (29) is still kicking himself for squandering a golden opportunity to clinch a mouth-watering showdown with Roger Federer.

The Limerick native, making his Major debut on Tuesday, stood on the brink of victory when he surged into a 4-1 lead -- two breaks to none -- in the fifth set against Adrian Mannarino.

But his French opponent stormed back to win the next five games and seal a remarkable 4-6 6-4 7-6 (9/7) 4-6 6-4 victory after an epic four-hour battle.

"I definitely should have closed out the match," said Niland, who had failed on his previous 11 attempts to get through qualifying at Grand Slams.

"So it truly was heartbreaking to lose. But I've just got to move on from the disappointment and focus on doing my level best to qualify for the main draw of as many Grand Slams as possible during the rest of my career.

"Now that I've made the breakthrough of playing in the main draw, I feel there's no reason why I can't do the same on many more occasions in the future.

"And my next objective is to get over the first-round hurdle."

The world No 181 said he will draw confidence from coming so close to beating 53-ranked Mannarino.

"I showed that I could hold my own with a player who's very close to the top 50," said Niland, pointing out that Mannarino beat the 2009 US Open champion Juan Martin del Potro at Queen's two weeks ago.

"So if I play as well as I can, I feel that I'll have a good chance of pulling off a win against any player."

Another priority for Niland is to get his ranking back close to the top 100 -- he was up to No 129 in December before a poor, injury-hit start to 2011 set him back.

Irish Independent

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