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29 October 2014

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Ian Flanagan and his racket
Ian Flanagan and his racket

Ian Flanagan (talks tennis)

Interview with Paul Robins
Nottingham's rising tennis star chats about life on the men's ATP Tour and his ongoing feuds with the top echelons of British tennis. (A Uni of Nottingham Impact Magazine article).

It's June 2004 and the sports pages of the country's newspapers are dominated by British glory on the tennis court. But for once the hero is neither Tim Henman nor Greg Rusedski.

Instead it is Nottingham's Ian Flanagan, ranked 866th in the world, who caused one of the biggest upsets in tennis history by beating the mighty Australian Mark Philippoussis 7-6, 7-6 in the first round of the Stella Artois Championships at Queens Club.

Having never previously won a match on the ATP Tour, he went on to record another stunning victory over world No35 Victor Hanescu, before succumbing to Sebastien Grosjean in the last 16.

Seldom in life is one's expectation of greatness commensurate with its realisation, but for the 22-year-old that week was the glorious exception. "The whole tournament was amazing," says Flanagan, who was born in north Wales but considers himself English. "The support was fantastic, and it gave me so much extra confidence – once I beat Philippoussis, I believed I could beat anyone."

But as with most fairytales, reality had the last word, as Flanagan was controversially denied a wildcard entry into Wimbledon a week later. "It was unbelievable that I didn't get a Wimbledon wild card! The LTA need to take a good hard look at themselves."

This feisty willingness to speak his mind has resulted in the right-hander becoming somewhat of a rebel. He is fiercely critical of the LTA, the governing body of British tennis, especially of its youth development policy. "It is run terribly and must be sorted out. In the States 20 or more youngsters are supported every year, so they all have a chance of making it. But in Britain the LTA selects 2 or 3 'golden boys' who get given everything, whilst the rest have to fend for themselves."

He laughs knowingly when it is mentioned that he is the only senior British player not funded by the LTA (he relies on private sponsors) and excluded from the training base at the All England Club in London. "I've been punished just because I tell it how it is", he insists. "But I don't want any help, I will do it all myself."

Flanagan is equally candid when asked about Great Britain's recent defeat to Austria in the Davis Cup. "I wasn't watching," he smiles grimly. "I should have been in the squad, but I have obviously upset someone somewhere! I would love to be involved in the Davis Cup, but it's out of my hands – all I can do is work hard on my own tennis."

The Nottingham firebrand has been working hard ever since he hit his first tennis ball at the age of four. "I tagged along with my brother to a tennis fun-day being held by former British No 1 Annabel Croft. I had a go and seemed to pick it up pretty quickly." So quickly in fact that by the age of 15 he was the top junior in the world and had won gold at the Youth Olympic Games in 1996. However, a debilitating bout of glandular fever contracted in 1998 threatened to end his promising career. "It was a really tough time, and I lost out on over two years of training. When I eventually came back it was an uphill struggle, but you just have to keep going."

Having moved to Mapperley Plains to rebuild his career in 2000, he turned professional a year later and now trains at the David Lloyd Centre in West Bridgeford. "I've never been one of these obsessive trainers. I do 11/2 hours tennis practice and 11/2 hours in the gym each day, but I quieten it down in the run up to tournaments. I also get part-time coaching from former British No 1 Andrew Castle whenever I'm in London, and his experience has been invaluable."

The aggressive baseliner is now concentrating his considerable effort on making a real impact on the ATP Tour circuit, which may eventually lead to his securing a win against his close friend and occasional practice partner, Andy Roddick.

Victories over a number of players in the world's top 50 has seen his world ranking soar from 530 to 166 in the last few months. "It's all down to confidence," says Flanagan, who has recently been employing the services of sports psychologist Pete Cohan. "Anyone in the top 300 can beat anyone in the top 10, and if you have a couple of good wins you think you can mix it with these guys."

Flanagan is currently on an eight week tour around the UK, before heading off to compete in Dubai. "I normally spend around 30 weeks a year away playing tournaments all over the world. I really enjoy it – I could never be a 9 to 5 person!"

Flanagan is conscious of ensuring that he isn't known simply as 'the man who beat Philippoussis at Queens'. "I don't want to be remembered for one result, or as one of these typical Brits who never really made it. I want to reach the top 10 in the world, make an impact at Wimbledon and become a respected name in the sport."

last updated: 07/07/08
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