A 6-3 6-4 defeat to Andrea Arnaboldi on Friday ended James McGee’s dream of French Open qualification for this year. The Irish number one reached the final qualifying round but was unfortunately unable to become the first Irish player to reach the French Open first round in 32 years.
The 26-year-old will look back with pride at his efforts on his first appearance at Roland Garros which saw him knock out two players ranked over 100 places ahead of him. His performance on the Paris clay is a sign of the progress the Irishman is making which has seen him reach a career high rank of 206 earlier this month.
If McGee can continue to move up the ranks of the global game he should be able to say goodbye to the financial concerns he outlined in a passionate and hugely enlightening blog post last year. He described the hardships of life in the lower levels of professional tennis and how difficult it can be to be successful without the backing of private sponsors and national tennis federations.
McGee has received little in the way of support from Tennis Ireland, receiving just one small payment in 2010 which barely lasted a week on tour. That is a pretty disgraceful state of affairs given he has been the Irish number one for over three years and is the only Irish player in the top 400. The 26-year-old has regularly represented Ireland in the Davis Cup and secured the crucial final rubber in a relegation play-off against Egypt in 2012.
The road to the brink of the ATP Tour has been a solitary one as he cannot afford a coach and has had to rely on the generosity of the likes of Bob Brett, Boris Becker’s former coach, for guidance. This solitude along with the financial difficulty of individual sport has seen him question his choice of career at times but this past week shows he is not too far away from making a significant breakthrough.
The Futures and Challenger circuits are unforgiving and provide players with a real test of character. Last year McGee played a Challenger tournament in Gabon in search of ranking points and came back with parasites. For someone to break on to the main ATP tour in their mid to late twenties is a rarity and many give up by that stage. Britain’s Jamie Baker, a regular wildcard entry at Wimbledon, retired last year aged 26, to work in finance as the strain was too much. McGee believes from what he has seen on the circuit that some of the British players lack the hunger to succeed that some of their less well supported peers do and that is why they don’t make the breakthrough. McGee certainly appears to have that drive and is on the road to cracking the top 200 hopefully by the end of 2014.
A few good performances in the coming weeks should be enough to see the Castleknock native make the cut for the Wimbledon qualifiers in June where he will be hoping to go one step further than in Paris.
Simon Bracken, Pundit Arena.