McGee just misses out on Open place

by Stephen Findlater

A MAIDEN Grand Slam main draw entry remains agonisingly out of reach, but James McGee’s stunning progress at the French Open qualifiers last week at Roland Garros suggest the Castleknock man is getting ever closer to reaching the main stage of the world’s largest tennis tournaments.

He was bidding to become the first Irish player to reach the main draw at the event since 1982, and came within one match of doing so.

Having scraped into the cut-off for the qualifiers, McGee eliminated Slovakia’s Norbert Gombos, a player ranked over 40 places above him in the world, in the first round.

He achieved that in three sets, racing to a 6-2 first set success before being pegged back level in the second. A late break in the third, though, saw him home 6-4

That set up a date with the qualifiers’ 14th seed and world number 119 in the second phase, Argentinian Guido Pella, a player over 90 places above the Irish number one.

But McGee was unfazed by the statistics and duly won out in straight sets against Pella to put him within a game of reaching the main draw.

The Castleknock man got off to a flyer, building a 4-1 lead in the first set before Pella broke back to reel in the gap to 5-4 when McGee was serving for the set.

But, following a series of deuces in the final game, McGee returned the favour to close out the set 6-4.

And he flew through the second set, breaking twice to amass a 4-0 lead and scarcely looked back, closing out the tie in less than half an hour to clinch the tie 6-1.

Given the setting and the level of opposition, the result against Pella ranked as one of the best wins of the 27-year-old’s career, especially in his first shot at making it into the French Open.

It put McGee through to face Italy’s Andrea Arnaboldi in the third round of the qualifiers, with the winner going through to the first round proper.

The Irishman, though, found the world number 174 player too hot to handle on the clay, losing out in straight sets 6-3, 6-4, the first going against him in 33 minutes, while the second did not last much longer.

Nonetheless, the week’s work represents another strong week in his ever-improving career. McGee had risen to 206th in the world – a career best – in early May, a position that saw him make the cut for this event and was his second time taking on a Grand Slam qualifier having also made it into the mix for the Australian Open.

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