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With ball in hand or foot, Ireland has been fiercely competitive for years – the country’s men’s rugby team currently holds the number one spot in the official world rankings. On the football scene, the European Championship was reached in 2012 and 2016, with plans to break a barren run ahead of the World Cup in 2026.
Medals have been lifted in major competitions on the track, field and pool, while an ambitious cricket team has punched above its weight and Katie Taylor remains the benchmark for female boxers around the world.
Given all that success, why has progress proved so elusive in tennis circles? There will once again be no Irish representation in betting at the US Open 2022, with Grand Slam events continuing to come and go while barely registering on a collective radar.
Though with the likes of Novak Djokovic, who sits as 11/8 favorite to claim further glory in New York, and Rafa Nadal flying the flag for Serbia and Spain respectively, there is a corner of Europe that wonders if the sun will ever come out one day.
— Davis Cup (@daviscup) March 17, 2016
While tennis is nothing new in Ireland, the most prominent of racquet sports apparently holds little appeal for those from the Emerald Isle. Maybe the interest is there, the potential just waiting to be unlocked, but lack of proper training and access to facilities puts immovable obstacles in the path of many aspiring players.
There have been Irish stars over the years, with a select few managing to make some sort of living from tennis, but they have tended to deviate from the norm. A quick flick through the history books paints a bleak picture when it comes to those with any kind of influence.
Across men’s and women’s sports, Ireland currently has no players in the world’s top 600 – singles or doubles – while only one wheelchair athlete has broken into the top 100 across both formats.
That’s no real surprise, as only two performers – one from each gender category – have ever cracked the top 100 throughout the history of the professional era, which stretches back to 1973. Matt Doyle reached a solo 65th.
Doyle was born in the United States, but was proud of his Irish heritage and competed under the tricolor flag. He reached the fourth round of the US Open in 1982 but lost to a certain John McEnroe before winning his only tour title at the Cologne Grand Prix a year later.
That’s when he rose to the top of the rankings, holding all four majors between 1982 and 1984. No one has surpassed such heights since and it is unlikely that anyone will do so again anytime soon.
It’s a 40-year itch that’s gone without a scratch, which is a little uncomfortable to say the least. Progress may continue in other ways with some ball sports thriving, but it remains to be seen whether that positivity can be transferred from the pitch to the court.
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