Bothwell Conquers Carrickmines

Ulsterman defeats Ryan Storrie 5-7 6-3 6-3 in Irish Open final

2018 Irish Open champion Pete Bothwell with the trophy
The 2018 Irish Open champion Pete Bothwell with his trophy | Crosscourt View

By Stephen Higgins | 6 August 2018

The crowd at Carrickmines Croquet & Lawn Tennis Club erupted on Sunday evening as Pete Bothwell captured the Irish Open - the first Irishman to do so since James McGee in 2011.

It was also the first ITF singles title of Bothwell’s career, a significant milestone for the 22-year-old. The Hillsborough man was understandably delighted once he got into the clubhouse.

“It’s been the best week of my life. The goal at the start of the week was to focus on a few processes and hopefully be in the final on Sunday. I’ve gone past what I wanted to do this week so it feels pretty special.”

Bothwell, ranked 857 in the world, surged to the title in the end but he was uncomfortable early on.

“I feel like I was just a little distracted from the fact that there were so many people here all cheering for me. I felt like I was playing for them more than I was playing for myself. And it was on TV. So there [were] a few outside things getting into my mind.”

Storrie, who was once a top 25 junior, packs a hefty punch and his aim was fixed on Bothwell’s second serve in the opening set. The Ulsterman won just 23% of points on his second delivery as the 20-year-old broke three times. The set fell to the ATP no.853 when Bothwell double faulted at 15-40 in the 12th game.

The crowd’s energy dissipated after the opening set and Bothwell knew that their involvement was needed to turn the match around.

“I just tried to block [the distractions] out a little bit more and think about myself and think about him and the tactics I was trying to implement when I was out there. I knew I’d have chances...If I could get the crowd a little bit more animated, nearly like a Davis Cup match, that makes me play better and I relax a little bit more.”

Pete Bothwell volleys during 2018 Davis Cup match against Norway
Bothwell in Davis Cup action against Norway in April 2018 | Espen Hildrup, Norges Tennisforbund

Bothwell settled into the contest and kept with Storrie on serve through the first five games. The set opened up when Bothwell broke the Englishman twice in succession, and then held to make it 3-5*. Storrie couldn’t protect his serve and the match was tied at a set-all.

A number of factors contributed to Bothwell’s comeback. He changed the pace of rallies with his backhand slice, anticipated Storrie’s serve a little better and made profitable approaches to the net. I wondered if these patterns were part of the original scheme or improvised.

“I started coming in more which actually was the plan from the start but I maybe wasn’t looking for that, or wasn’t proactive enough with my feet, so I wasn’t getting the opportunities to come forward. The goal was to use the slice. Play a little higher. Play a little slower to try disrupt his rhythm…gunk him around a bit and then try get on my forehand to increase it then.”

The final set was a test of stamina as much as skill as the long week in sweltering conditions caught up with both competitors.

Bothwell had the advantage of serving first and opened with a hold after saving a breakpoint. The third game was pivotal for the Ulsterman’s charge as he won five straight points from 0-40 to retain the lead.

Both players continued to hold serve until a fading Storrie coughed up a break in the eighth game. Faced with the unenviable pressure of serving for the championship, Bothwell displayed fine poise and took the first three points.

The first match point flew away as a framed second serve pierced the sky. But Bothwell calmed himself and snatched the next one. When the umpire called the contest, the Hillsborough man raised his arms in disbelief.

“The goal before the match was to enjoy the experience, to thrive from the crowd and just have fun out there. I didn’t really do that in the first set. I was very uptight actually and thinking ‘what was happening?’ and ‘what was going on?’...When I got my focus and started to play my tennis, I could reap the rewards then.”

What rewards they are.

With that moment, Bothwell claimed his first ITF singles title, 27 ATP ranking points, a cheque for more than €3,000 and a piece of Irish tennis history.