Junior tennis aces head to city in the hunt for points

Local tennis fans will be spoiled for choice over the coming days with two top class tournaments within a mile of each other in Belfast.

The Belfast City ITF junior world ranking tournament takes place at Windsor, starting with qualifying on Saturday.

A short distance away the Clubworld Travel Ulster Junior tournament gets under way on Friday at the Boat Club with the U-10 events followed by action in the older age-groups from Saturday onwards.

And there is nothing in the rules to prevent players from competing in both the Windsor and Boat Club competitions if, say, they were to make an early exit from qualifying or the first round of the former.

“The only restriction is that players who are competing at Windsor can only enter one event at the Boat Club but we will do all we can to accommodate players who wish to play in both,” said Ulster Junior Championship Referee Chris Sanlon.

Preparations for both events are in full swing and ITF Tournament Director Simon McFarland says that local youngsters taking part in the Windsor showpiece could be in for a reality check.

Girls and boys from all over Europe and as far afield as Nigeria will be flocking to the south Belfast venue where Romanian-born Windsor player Karola Bejenaru is the top seed.

It would be a major upset if she were to fail to retain her title such has been her progress in the past 12 months.

However the bulk of the Irish players, from both sides of the border, would be content just to get a couple of steps up the ladder as far as their world ranking is concerned.

The competition will be stiff as, for most of their rivals, tennis is more a way of life rather than just a game.

“Playing at the ITF tournament will be an eye opener for many of our players and it will give them an opportunity to see at first hand how players from other countries treat the sport,” said McFarland.

“It’s a very serious business and, for example, you will see the visiting players practising on our spare court as early as 7am most mornings.

“Many of them will be travelling in groups of maybe eight to 10 or 12 with one coach while others may be on their own.

“Karola, for example, rarely if ever, travels to ITF tournaments with her coach as it is an expensive business striving to make it up the rankings.”

While there will be plenty of off-court activity at the Boat Club tournament, with a host of side shows and entertainment for competitors, it will be a very different set up at Windsor.

“There is no need for anything like that as none of the players would even dream of, say, playing a game of table tennis in case they might get injured,” Simon added.

“They are all very conscious of their diet as well and we have to make sure we have healthy food on offer all the time.

“We are looking forward very much to hosting the tournament and it will give not only the local players, but members, a chance to see some top class tennis on their own doorstep.

“There has been a lot of hard work going on behind the scenes but the good thing is that, having hosted the ITF last year, we could learn from our mistakes and forsee any problems before they arise, in theory anyway.

“One thing we can’t control is the weather obviously so all we can do is keep our fingers crossed that it is fine but we also have to make a contingency if it’s not.

“Last year, for example, we had to bus the players to indoor courts when the weather intervened on one of the days so we have other venues in reserve.

Belfast City Council are backing the event which has also received support from local businesses such as House & Stock self storage, Hastings Hotels, Tower gate and Russell Business Centre.

The draw takes place on Friday evening and local players like Lucy Octave, Laura Reid, Emily Beatty will be hoping to avoid Karola Bejenarau.

Lucy, of course, scored a surprise win over Karola in the final of the Ulster Senior Championship and she is looking forward to next week’s event.

“I am really looking forward to the tournament and, hopefully, I get some more points than I did last year,” said Lucy.

“I reached the quarter finals of the doubles but, unfortunately, I lost my singles match so I didn´t receive any points in that event.”

Lucy is hoping to secure a place on a tennis scholarship when she leaves school and to be higher up the world ladder would certainly enhance her CV.

“Ideally I would like to go on a scholarship to the United States and I am a member of the Ulster Tennis Colleges squad where we receive expert coaching from Sam Armstrong.

“But with two years left at school I don’t have to rush into anything at this stage so I am just concentrating on trying to improve all the time and build on the confidence that the win over Karola gave me.”

Lucy had also confirmed her entry for the Ulster Junior Championship at the Boat Club and, as title holder in the U-18 singles, will start as hot favourite to hold on to the trophy she won last year.

Men’s singles title holder Aaron Stubbs is no longer eligible as he is now over age and that could open the door for the likes of Windsor’s Matthew McClurg to take the honours.