'NI will have players at Wimbledon in near future'

Michael Blease
Blease is the tournament director for the International Tennis Federation J60 in Belfast [BBC]

Northern Ireland tennis player and coach Michael Blease believes that NI will "definitely" have players at Wimbledon in the near future.

Speaking at the International Tennis Federation J60 tournament at the Windsor Tennis Club in Belfast, tournament director Blease was hopeful that some local players will eventually make it to the biggest stage.

Belfast's Claire Curran is the only player in NI to make it to Wimbledon, playing in a total of four Championships.

"In the next 10 years we will definitely have one or two players on the Wimbledon stage," he told BBC Sport NI.

"There are more talented players coming through and the big thing is we have more indoor courts available to us, before there wasn’t many indoor courts and players would struggle to train all year round."

More investment needed

The J60 tournament has brought over 100 players from across the world to Belfast as they compete for ranking points.

Blease is pleased that the tournament has arrived in the city, bringing with it some of the best junior tennis players from different continents.

"There is quite a high-level, the top 500 players in the world compete here, there are players from across Ireland and players who aren’t ranked, and it is a good chance for them to get points."

Despite his hopes for the future of tennis in Northern Ireland, Blease acknowledges that there is room for improvement in some areas.

"We have some very good players at under-14 level who would be top 30 in the world and three more in the top 200 but currently in certain parts, we're struggling in grips in the underage for example."

He also points to the fact that more investment in the sport is needed at local level to help talented players fulfil their potential.

"The funding is more available in the south of Ireland than the north, but we need more sponsorships for our players to go off and travel and compete at higher tournaments."