The Limerick native has quite a list of credentials to his name. He holds three ATP Challenger titles, has played over 25 Davis Cup matches for Ireland, is the highest ranked player in Ireland and, was previously ranked No. 3 in the NCAA rankings while at UC Berkley before turning focus to the ATP tour in 2005.

Although he travels the world Niland is no stranger to Loughborough campus. Having played here as a child and been a semi-finalist at last year’s tournament he articulates: “It’s always nice to come back to a place where you’ve won some matches and been successful.”

Niland admits that his year has been quite “stop [and] start” having had a cortisone injection in his hip in January. But despite being plagued with injury and illness, a quarter-final appearance in Heilbronn Open in early 2011, and a pivotal last 16 performance at the Nottingham Aegon Trophy in June was a sign of greater things to come.

He expresses: “It was important and I wanted to get some wins on grass and Nottingham was a really good tournament for me. I got, you know, four/five wins and it gave me some confidence with wins going into Wimbledon.”

In June, Niland became the first Irishman in 31 years to reach a main draw at Wimbledon. It was also a first time main draw qualification in a Grand Slam for Niland who until this year, had only gotten as far as the third round of qualifying at a Grand Slam.

On his success at Wimbledon, Conor says: “It kinda kicked off from there and Wimbledon was amazing. I was down match points in qualifying and qualified and had that experience.”

His first round match against Frenchman Adrien Mannarino was a nail-biting affair. The two fought toe-to-toe in an epic five-setter before Mannarino took the fifth set 6-4 in a match that lasted 240 mins.

He relays: “It was a brilliant experience and having all the Irish there was amazing, and everyone got behind it at home and they were televising it at home, and people were following it and the reaction afterwards was great from everyone. Pity I didn’t the win to play Federer. I probably should have closed the match out so it was a bit bitter sweet because [when] you play that well and are that close to get the wins it’s difficult to take but still, you know, a great experience.”

Niland repeated his success at the US Open qualifying for the first round and faced none other than current world no. 1 Novak Djokovic. However, a bout of food poisoning forced him to retire after the second set.

When quizzed about what was going through his mind before he had to retire against Djokovic the Irish native admits that “if it had been any other tournament [I] wouldn’t have taken to the court,” adding that he “felt really ill for the two days beforehand and started to get sick on Sunday night and [on] Monday and Tuesday I could barely get out of bed. I wanted to go out there and get some of the experience at least. If I retired or pulled out before the match started, my name would have been taken out of the draw and they would have never have said I played in the actual tournament even though I qualified.”

Conor Niland may not be in the same league as the ‘The Big Four’ but is a true pioneer of Irish tennis. Niland believes, as he puts it, he has been able “break a few barriers and start to play Grand Slams.” He reiterates: “For me to be the first guy to [play a Grand Slam] in a long time is great and hopefully guys can take heart from it he can get there. It is nice to be setting a kind of standard I suppose.’

What is next for Conor Niland? “In the next 12 months,” he confides, “I would love to have played in the other two Grand Slams and hopefully get back to Wimbledon and US Open again.” He admits that despite injury woes that this year gave him “a lot of belief.” To also “get through qualifying once for Wimbledon helped for the US Open so it should help for next year too.”


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