/ Tennis

Niland edged out in five-set Wimbledon epic

Updated: Wednesday, 22 Jun 2011 16:36

A dejected Conor Niland congratulates Adrian Mannarino at SW19
A dejected Conor Niland congratulates Adrian Mannarino at SW19

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Ireland's Conor Niland crashed out of Wimbledon in the first round after blowing a 4-1 lead in the deciding set against France's Adrian Mannarino.

In an epic match on Court 17, Niland fought his way back from two sets to one down and appeared to be on the verge of becoming the first Irishman to win a match at Wimbledon in the Open era.

Niland had come through three rounds of qualifying to make his grand slam debut and became the first Irishman to reach the main draw at Wimbledon since Sean Sorensen in 1980.

But the 29-year-old's run was ended in cruel fashion.

Mannarino fought back from two breaks down in the deciding set to clinch a 4-6 6-4 7-6 (9/7) 4-6 6-4 victory.

The Frenchman's prize was a second-round tie with the six-time Wimbledon champion Roger Federer, who opened his campaign with a straight sets win against Mikhail Kukushkin.

Niland and Mannarino had met only once before, at the Spain F19 Futures tournament in 2006, and that went the distance too.

Niland started confidently today and he had Mannarino's serve under repeated pressure in the opening set, eventually converting his eighth break point to win it 6-4.

Mannarino's unforced errors were depriving him of any momentum but he upped his game in the second set and this time it was Niland who was having to fend off the break points.

The Frenchman finally found a way through to level the match before working himself three set points for a 2-1 lead - but Niland refused to go down without a fight.

He saved all three set points - including one with a bold forehand pass right into the corner - before breaking back to force the set into a tie-break.

Mannarino edged it 9-7 to end a 70-minute set but Niland's fighting spirit was not dimmed and he forced the match into a deciding set.

He broke for a 4-2 lead in the fourth set and then fended off a fightback from Mannarino, saving a break point, before levelling the match with some ferocious groundstrokes. Now the momentum was his.

Playing a fifth set at a grand slam was unchartered territory for Niland, whose record on the senior tour before today was won seven, lost 10.

But he reacted brilliantly at first, breaking Mannarino twice to open a 4-1 lead, prompting hugs all round from the Irish fans in the crowd.

Niland was within touching distance of a victory - but he did not win another game.

Mannarino broke back to test the Irishman's nerves and they began to fray. Another break followed immediately as Mannarino levelled the deciding set at 4-4.

Niland had to serve to stay in the match but he fell to a third consecutive break as a rejuvenated Mannarino completed a stunning comeback.

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