Tennis: Niland rues poor serving as Irish falter
Conor Niland found the rankings disparity too hot to handle as Gilles Muller helped Luxembourg to celebrate Davis Cup success over Ireland.
At 90 in the world list, Muller is 43 places ahead of the Irish player, and he used that to telling advantage as he powered his way to a 6-4 6-4 6-4 victory in two hours and five minutes at David Lloyd Riverview yesterday.
Ireland headed into the final two singles rubbers trailing 1-2 as a result of losing Saturday's doubles when James Cluskey and James McGee succumbed to Muller and Laurent Bram 7-6 (7/4) 7-6 (7/4) 6-4.
So Gary Cahill's charges, without injured duo Louk Sorensen and Colin O'Brien, needed to come up trumps twice yesterday to clinch a mouth-watering second-round clash with an Andy Murray-powered Great Britain at the Clonskeagh venue in July.
But because of Niland's loss, the Irish will now face a relegation play-off in July away to Tunisia, who lost to Great Britain over the weekend.
In the dead singles rubber, Ireland's McGee defeated Luxembourg's Mike Vermeer, leaving the final score 3-2 in the grand duchy's favour.
Niland's inability to conjure up an adequate percentage of first serves contributed largely to his defeat.
"Just like on Friday (against Mike Vermeer), I didn't serve very well today, having too many second serves," said Niland, as he reflected on the match against the 2008 US Open quarter-finalist.
"In contrast, his serve percentage must have been around 75 per cent, so he was very hard to break.
"I tried to attack his backhand, as I thought that was his weaker side, but it held up very well for him. As well, his retrieving was reasonably decent."
The Irish No 1 could not have hoped for a more encouraging start, breaking Muller to 15 in the fourth game en route to storming into a 4-1 lead.
However, thereafter it largely went downhill for Niland, with his opponent recovering brilliantly to take the next five games on the trot to wrap up the opening set.
Muller took a two sets to love lead after breaking the Limerick man to 15 in the ninth game, and there was no way back for the home player when he dropped his serve in the first game of the third set.
"Today I played my best match of the three days," said Muller. "I started off badly, but he gave me a few break points to help me come back from 4-1 down.
"I could have done without four sets against Barry King on Friday, but the doubles yesterday helped me get a rhythm back."