Irish tennis professionals are held back by lack of investment

Irish tennis professionals and coaches have criticised Tennis Ireland for not providing the funds and coaching needed to help elite players become world-class.

Tennis Ireland governs the sport and concentrates its high-level coaching at the National Tennis Centre in Dublin, but in recent years many coaches and players have left the Centre because they felt they were not given the required support.

Gary Cahill, who was Tennis Ireland Performance Director at the Centre for 13 years before he left last year, said elite players were not getting enough funding.

“You can’t expect to produce Wimbledon-level players with no investment.” He said.

“I think we have to believe that we can produce tennis players. Looking at the long term and what we want to do in the future, we have to invest to get results.”

He added that the National Centre is functioning at a “much lower level” because many coaches and players had left, as performance tennis players at the National Centre were “not receiving anything near the kind of funding that is necessary.”

Cahill, who has established his own elite academy for players called Prodigy Tennis, said: “If the objective of Tennis Ireland is to produce high-performance players, there has to be an investment in individuals.”

During his time at Tennis Ireland, elite players trained every day, seeing a full-time strength and conditioning coach each morning followed by on-court coaching for two hours in both the morning and afternoon.

Based on his experience, Cahill said it was this level of intensive support and training that was needed to produce players who could compete internationally as professionals or in Junior Grand Slams.

He said: “If you go back to players who’ve played Grand Slams in the last 10 years, practically, actually all of the players have availed of this service”

“So, we know that’s what’s needed and that’s what we were providing on a daily basis.”

Cahill said that although he enjoyed his time working for Tennis Ireland, it came to a point where he no longer believed in their objectives.

“There’s a point where you have to ask yourself, “Is this really what I think is the right thing to do?” And if it’s not, it’s demotivating to continue to do that.”

Simon Carr is a 20-year old Irish professional tennis player, who is currently ranked 531st in the world according to the Association of Tennis Professionals (ATP), the major governing body in tennis worldwide.

His father, former Dublin GAA player Tommy Carr also said there is a lack of facilities in place for professional athletes in Tennis Ireland.

According to Tommy, “There was a set up in DCU for elite and performance players, that was dismantled this year so there are no services for Simon.”

Tommy said that Simon has to fend for himself training wise. “There’s no coaching, no strength and conditioning, no sport science,” said Tommy. “He is doing this individually and solely on his own.”

The Carrs are “really disappointed” in Tennis Ireland. When Simon decided to leave school to pursue professional tennis, there was some structure in place in the association, but they say that it’s all finished now.

“It’s obvious at this stage that Tennis Ireland don’t believe that they have players to pursue a career at the top level,” said Tommy.

Simon said he finds it tough travelling abroad without any support system from the association.

He said: “You nearly feel like you are totally alone. When you are travelling and stuff there’s not any support from your national federation and it just feels like some days when you’re having bad days, [it] just feels like no one really cares.”

“But there are people who care, it’s just that they are not in the right positions.”

Northern Irish Tennis player Peter Bothwell, ranked 803rd in the world, also believes that Tennis Ireland does not sufficiently support performance tennis.

Bothwell returned to Dublin to train with Tennis Ireland last year after five years at Sotogrande Tennis Academy in Spain. However, he had to return to Spain in under a year when he did not get the support he said he needed.

Bothwell finds it difficult to watch players from other countries progress faster than Irish players. “Maybe if we did have more support financially and coach support, we might be able to do the same.”

Tennis Ireland say that there are still performance programmes underway at the National Tennis Centre.

The 2020 High Performance budget expenditure, according to Tennis Ireland will partly be spent on the delivery of a new soon to be launched programme that will provide direct funding and services to performance players that reach specific benchmarks. When this will be implemented was not stated.

“These programmes are currently being reviewed as part of the development of a new High Performance Strategy for Tennis Ireland.” – Tennis Ireland

According to Tennis Ireland, there are currently just under 500 players involved in their Performance Programmes around the country, with up to 50 coaches or others involved.

 

Courtney Fitzmaurice, Katie Lowry & Seán Power