Irish Tennis Hope – ‘My long-term goal is to play in the Grand Slams’

As a kid on the Irish junior tennis circuit, Usgar Oisen lost every match he played. It was understandable. He was a newcomer to a technical sport that required thousands of hours of training just to reach a minimum level of proficiency.

Not quite born to play. Neither of his parents were raised around tennis clubs. His first exposure to the racket was at a University School Dublin summer camp. Gradually, his family noticed an increased enthusiasm. Instant excitement every time a court glimpses through the car window.

Since then, they have committed to supporting this passion until it became his profession.

In the early days there was defeat after defeat. His response after the match was always the same.

“Did you see that shot I got? It was unbelievable!”

Now as one of the few Irish tennis players on the pro circuit, it’s a vision close to his heart.

“My parents still laugh about it now,” he recalls with a smile.

“They remind me of that sometimes. I’d be crushed after losing at the pros and they’d say, ‘Don’t forget you were going to fall when you were 10 and the only thing you could remember was one good shot.'” As I get older, I’m really trying to hold on to that.

“It’s a way of remembering why you play. It’s about enjoying what you’re doing.”

Ó hOisín is part of a five-man squad that currently represents Ireland as they take on Barbados in the Davis Cup Group 11 World Series. On Friday, he lost to Darian King in his second singles match. Simon Carr secured a point for Ireland in the first game.

Ireland was handed a tour against China earlier this year to advance to this stage.

The format is five matches over two days. Two singles, even and two reverse singles. All matches are the best of the three sets of the tiebreak.

His grandiose ambition to become a professional began and felt like a distant fantasy. The climb was very steep from the start and he had to go step by step. In his teens he began to show promise, becoming club champion several times at Donnybrook Tennis Club. From there he set his sights on the states.

There was no tennis track in Ireland. There is no financing or infrastructure. So he had to make for himself.

“We can’t keep track of what other people are doing,” the 26-year-old explains.

“We don’t have the same system as Italy. We will not produce a 14-year-old prodigy who can become a professional at 17. This is not our path. Our path will be different.”

“I personally think that playing college tennis should be a huge goal. The top college players are playing in the US Open this year. College tennis has reached a point where I’ve become very professional, and that should be the next step for 99.9% of the players.

“The best kids in the world ten years ago would have gone pro, but now they go to college to develop physically, mature and get an education. For Irish players, this is a great next step.

“It’s become a huge sport out there. A lot of teams are recruiting internationally. Sometimes the majority of the team members are from outside the US, often 50-50. Coaches look at rookie results and see who is doing well.

“Then they contact you via Facebook messenger. We’ve been looking at your results. We’re interested in talking to you about coming here. They’re trying to increase the size of their college.

“I remember looking at a few different colleges, and Wisconsin flew over their assistant coach to look at me. He only came for five hours. We got off the plane and headed straight to the tennis court where we agreed to meet. I hit balls for 30 minutes with Dave O’Hare. He is the coach of Ram and Salisbury who just won the US Open Doubles Championship.

Their coach said, ‘I like the way you hit the ball. “We took him to the airport and he flew again. That was him.”

He traveled with his father to America to make official visits to a variety of high-ranking colleges. Miami, Florida, Louisiana. The last stop was Wisconsin. The famous football team and the lucrative TV money it generates flows into other sports. The climate is cooler. This means faster courts that fit his skill set. The team and coach were very fit.

Source: Oisin Keniry / INPHO

It meant taking his sporting life around the world and the sad truth is that he didn’t leave much behind. Ireland has not had a player to compete in the Grand Slam since 2011. Tennis funding in Ireland has been halted in the latest allocation of Sports Ireland’s high-performance programme. There are hardly any clay courts in the country as artificial turf is the norm. Unheard of in most parts of the world.

“It was entering a different stratosphere. Realistically, it’s sad, but even relatively middle schools have better miles than any facilities you’ll find in the country of Ireland.

“The magic associated with sports in America is one of my favorite elements of their culture. They dedicate a lot of time and money to taking it to the next level. They allow you to be the best you can be.

“They have incredible facilities. What they do really well is integrating the sport. I was training in the gym with Jonathan Taylor and now he is one of the best running defenders in the NFL. You see these guys in the gym, the gym facilities, the nutrition rooms.

“We had full drink bars for the athletes. Meals and clothes are provided. Cameras in the back of every court. Big locker rooms.

“I’m not so naive as to think Ireland will get to that level. There are certain things they can do to generate some excitement and energy around it, for sure.

“That was one of the biggest things that came out. In the end, if you want to compete internationally, you have to be committed to high standards.”

From college to the pros it wasn’t a smooth transition. After graduating in 2019, he started 2020 with a meticulous plan. Covid tore it apart. That day in February at a tournament in Mexico when officials began invading stadiums in the middle of the tournament to pull players back home, he will live long in his memory.

Gradually I started getting back on track. In tennis, there are three levels of tournaments. The future of the ITF, the Challengers and the ATP Grand Slams. In less than 12 months, Osgar has moved his ATP rating from 1339 to 811.

There was a double victory over Daniil Medvedev and Stefan Kozlov in the French championship. Recently matched with World no. 14 Kyle Edmund found himself leading 4-1 before the challenge withered away. Enough sparks to wish I could ignite soon.

Ozgar Ohaisen

Source: Ryan Byrne / INPHO

“My long-term goal is to play in the Grand Slam,” Heusen admits.

“I think this can be achieved. Having seen the level that is out there and the players that are playing in the Grand Slams, I see no reason why I shouldn’t do it if I fully commit. If I think I can too. That’s the first step. Being a top 100 player. Never happened in Ireland before.This is the final.

“To get into a slam qualifier you have to be around 250. I might play a man in Mexico in the trenches of a tour in the future and a few months later he play in the US Open. It can happen quickly if your level is good enough.

“It’s a tough sport. It takes a lot of effort and sacrifice. The higher you climb the steeper the cliff. Smaller things become a factor. Small details are very important. Doing it every day without any chance of ensuring success is difficult, but that’s one of the great parts of this Sports.

“Now it’s a personal drive. There’s no money coming in at the moment. If it’s just about finances, this isn’t the sport to play. A lot of it is knowing how much I can pay.”

“Finance is the single biggest factor. I basically work at a loss. On a small budget. Another reason I play with in the US is that it’s cheaper if you have a decent network. I never pay for hotels because I ask every man and his dog if I can stay with them.”

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“Stay wise is cheaper this way. In Europe, the money will go into a black hole and not go out.”

As big a hindrance as funding is, he dwarfs the battle in his mind. He could still tell the moment the realization dawned.

This past February, a Dublin player was working his way through a dog in a qualifying match in Valencia. A good arrangement was required to enter the main draws, so this tie was important, and he was desperate to succeed. His opponent was of the same level, also in the first steps of the pro.

Ó hOisín was a stickler. Passive gameplay. In the end, he crept back into the dressing room feeling satisfied. On his way, he passed the Central Court and stopped.

Carlos Alcaraz-with-the-cup-during-Barcelona-Openbank-Sabdel-Conde-de-Judo-plays-in-in-Real-Club-de-Tenis-Barcelona-in-April-24- 2022-in-barcelona- spain-photo-by-bagu-blanco-press

Source: Alamy Stock Photo

This guy was training there. It was Carlos Alcaraz. I’ve never seen anything like how he was hitting the play. It was amazing. How we used to play the same sport?

“Freedom. Aggression. Courage. This was something completely different from what I just played. It really changed my expectations of how I want to play,” he says with long skepticism.

“I remember my first ATP ranking point. I was pretty tight before that. Thinking, ‘If I can win this match, that will be huge for me.’” I may retire immediately! “

“I would be very happy with the point. This is a big problem in Ireland but for a lot of these guys it’s nothing. Suddenly I win, I get the point and I realize it’s not that massive.

“This is really important. Now I’m playing a 400-year-old in the world, I don’t hold an eyelid. There’s no reason why I can’t win. You really need to build a faith.”

“The main barrier is mental. There are tactical and technical errors of course, but that is the most important.

Watching him hit the ball was unbelievable. Speed ​​and power. I thought I should demand more of myself. It changed my expectations of how I wanted to play. Even though I won, it wouldn’t get me to my goal. You need to chase a benchmark. a certain “.

A win this week would see Ireland qualify for the World Group A playoffs, the most significant achievement for an Irish Davis Cup team in years. Usgar is the only team player to play in three matches, twice singles and as part of doubles.

The prospect of a Davis Cup rematch in Ireland is a strong motivation. An opportunity to show that this nation has talent and reason to fall behind.

Then? The goal is to finish 2022 by playing as many tournaments as possible. Compete behind the junior competitions trying to face the highest level possible.

“It’s hard to see the bigger picture in Futures, but in Challengers, there are men in the top 100.

“Playing in those events, you see, there’s no real reason I can’t compete. I think some players get caught week after week, year after year in futures. The ceiling there isn’t high enough. You have to be exposed to more.”

“Why do I play tennis? It’s not like I could be in remote Tunisia playing some random players. I want to play in front of the crowd at the highest level possible. I need to go to challenging events. Sometimes I risk not getting into it, but forcing myself to adapt to those situations.” .

“I go there and say it to myself. I try to prove that I belong here.”