AFTER YEARS OF lugging his rackets around unglamorous events on ATP Challenger and ITF Futures tours, Limerick’s Conor Niland will finally get a taste of the big time when he steps onto one of tennis’s most famous courts this evening.
At around 19:30 Irish time this evening, the world number 197 will take his place in the Arthur Ashe Stadium, New York City; opposite him, the best player in the world on current form, Novak Djokovic.
The Serb has been beaten only twice in 59 outings this year, winning Grand Slam titles at the Australian Open and Wimbledon in the process. Already the bookmakers have forecast his safe path into the second round of the US Open, offering odds as small as 1/500 on a win against Niland this evening.
The Birmingham-born Irishman got his first taste of Grand Slam action at Wimbledon this summer and, as he told Sky Sports News earlier today, he’s just happy to be back on the biggest stage once again.
“I had a look at where the qualifiers were placed in the draw and I did notice that Djokovic was up against a qualifier,” he said.
“I wasn’t sure at the time if I wanted that or not, but when I got the text, my initial reaction was that I was pleased. I was excited.
I think you play tennis to be part of the big occasions, so I knew it would be a big court against the number one in the world and Wimbledon champion. It was something that I was pretty excited about, and I still am.
Aside from the 196 rankings places that separate the two players, there is a huge gulf in their earnings. This year alone, Djokovic has cashed prize money cheques in excess of €5.7m. At less than €30,000 — most of which came from Wimbledon — Niland’s winnings are slightly more modest.
His success in qualifying for the main draw at Flushing Meadows has guaranteed him at least another €13,000 which, he admits, is a huge sum for a professional at his level.
“Being a tennis player, unless you’re really at the top of the game, it’s not very easy to make a living. We don’t get a salary like we would in a team sport so week to week, you’re just trying to win your tennis matches.
“If you’re outside the top 100, you’re playing on the Challenger circuit where the money’s not that good but the expenses are still very high.
It’s not the easiest thing in the world but when you get to play in the big tournaments, it really is a nice reward.
You can follow Conor’s progress in our liveblog here from 7.30pm this evening >