NEW YORK – Were weeping and wailing heard throughout the streets of South Boston yesterday?
Possibly. But maybe the word hadn’t gotten around yet about the gallant failure of two Irishmen trying to break into the US Open, and create some tennis history. According to tournament officials, no Irishman had ever pushed beyond the first round of the 130- year-old US Championship, so somebody had to be the bearer of sad tidings to Southie, the Irish capital beyond the Emerald Isle.
Not that Southie is a tennis stronghold. “But we thought we could win a match or two,” says one of the two entries, Louk Sorensen, who divides his time between Cork and Stuttgart, Germany where he plays on a club team. His colleague, Conor Niland, hailing from Limerick, is the Irish champ.
Although their rankings weren’t very high, the numbers were good enough to get them into the qualifying tournament. Where they won their way into the main draw with three wins apiece. They felt as proud as the patriots Daniel O’Connell and Michael Collins.
And rich, too, at age 29.
“The money was wonderful,” says Sorensen, especially the way things are at home these days. Nineteen-thousand-dollars apiece! That’ll buy a lot of Guiness.”
I said, “You ought to buy it in Southie. We could have a parade down Broadway. You ever been there?”
“No,” says Conor, “ but every good Irishman in the world knows where Southie is.”
So it was time for the draw, and Niland’s face sagged for a moment. His opponent was only No. 1, Novak Djokovic. “It’s OK,” Niland” says to his pal. “I always wanted to play a top-ten guy. Great experience.”
“Yes. When they peel you off the court,” Sorensen says. “But don’t worry. I’ve got the match we need. Also a top-ten guy, Robin Soderling. He’s sick and defaulted to me, so I’m in the second round.”
For about 10 minutes. An official informs Sorensen that Brazilian Rogerio Dutra Da Silva has replaced Soderling and will face Sorensen.
That’s when the cave-in took over. As you might suspect, Niland had a little trouble with Djokovic. It took 12 games until Niland surrendered to food poisoning. Backhand poisoning from No.1 didn’t help. Now it was up to Sorensen to save the day – grab a match somehow, He held up, sort of, to Da Silva and 6-0, 3-6, 6-4, 1-0, quitting with cramps all over his body. Ireland was ironed flat.
“We need more practice and conditioning,” said Sorensen. “Tennis isn’t big in Ireland, but we really wanted to get one match, to show we could do it.”
It was enough to make you cry for dear old Ireland. I consoled them that the Irish physician, Joshua Pim, won Wimbledon in 1883 and 1884. Life could get better. In 1879 an Irishman, Wimbledon runnerup Vere T. Goold, was convicted of murder. (Hot shots?)
“Never heard of them, but we didn’t want to win it that bad.” He seemed to be brushing aside a tear.