TENNIS: Rising young Ulster player Karola Bejenaru has big hopes for the future

Karola Bejenaru
Karola Bejenaru

Bucharest met Ballymoney at the weekend when Ulster tennis’s rising star Karola Bejenaru was interviewed by Liam Beckett as part of BBC Radio Ulster’s Summer Club programme.

The News Letter football columnist, who hails from the Co Antrim town, introduced himself by saying that he had bad memories of a trip to the Romanian capital in the 1970s.

Karola’s jaw dropped at the suggestion initially but she had no reason to be concerned as Liam was referring to a European Cup trip with Crusaders during his playing days and was not passing any negative opinions about her homeland.

Let’s just say the Crues were heavily beaten but that was the end of that particular conversation as the chat quickly moved to tennis.

It emerged that Karola didn’t speak a word of English when she arrived in Belfast seven years ago but she didn’t take long to change that.

Now 17, she is completely fluent in the language and she was a model interviewee once Liam did the ‘live’ broadcast for real after doing his research before going on air.

Earlier in the day Karola was reminded of her trip to Roehampton for Junior Wimbledon qualifying as she watched Eugenie Bouchard, the 20 year-old Canadian, lose to Petra Kvitova in the ladies singles final at SW19.

Bouchard won the Junior Wimbledon title two years ago and Karola has aspirations of doing well in the Grand Slam event next year.

She has another year left in the Under 18 ranks and will be doing her level best to reach the main draw and perhaps win a match or two to boost her ranking before she joins the senior age group.

Mind you, she is doing extremely well at the moment and is currently at a career high of 154, having enjoyed a rapid rise up the list in the last 12 months.

She wasn’t expected to win the ITF junior tournament on her home courts at Windsor last August but she defied the seedings to lift the trophy.

Currently she is enjoying some home comforts and this week is competing at the Co Dublin Championships at Carrickmines.

Later in the month she will be returning to the Republic to defend her title at the junior ITF tournament at Donnybrook and then it will be back to her home venue to do likewise for a similar competition at Windsor.

Her prime focus, at first glance, is tennis but she also has to keep her eye on the ball as far as academic life is concerned.

Formerly educated at Orangefield High School, she is now studying at Belfast Metropolitan College, not that she is in the classroom too much during term time.

She is taking things relatively easy these days having just returned from three months on the road in her bid to climb up the ITF rankings.

“It was difficult to make friends when I first came over to Northern Ireland after my father got a job here because I didn’t have a word of English,” she explained.

“I didn’t take any lessons so I just sort of picked it up and that obviously makes life easier for me when I am at home.

“I study when I am away when I am not playing matches or practising and have do hand in homework and assignments like any other student.”

Karola says she has got over the disappointment of missing out in the main draw at Wimbledon and she is looking forward to the upcoming tournaments.

“I actually liked playing on the grass at Roehampton although it was the first time I had ever played on that surface,” she commented.

She will be the top seed when she defends her title at the ITF Junior world ranking tournament at Windsor which is scheduled for July 28-August 1 and at Donnybrook the week before.

Karola is the highest ranked player on the entry list which closed last week and she could find herself up against some of other Irish-based contestants.

She competed in the qualifying tournament for Junior Wimbledon a fortnight ago but bowed out in the first round after losing to the third seed in three sets.

She was bitterly disappointed at the time having squandered a break point in the opening set and won the second before under performing in the decider.

But she says she has got over her defeat and is looking forward to defending her titles.

“I have analysed things with my coach and it’s time to move on and look to the next ranking tournament which will be Donnybrook which I also won last year,” she explained.

The Belfast City Council backed showpiece is a Grade Five event while Karola has been taking part in higher ranked tournaments of late when more points are on offer.

“Grade Fives are quite competitive as well and I have been away from home for three months leading up to Wimbledon qualifying so I am glad to be playing the Windsor tournament,” she added.

“There is always pressure and maybe more so this year as I will be the top seed but it will good to have the sort of home support I had last year and I am really looking forward to the tournament.”

Her opponent in last year’s final, Lauren Deegan, is also in the main draw while another southerner Julie Byrne, at 462, is the highest ranked Irish player competing.

Other local girls who will be hoping to come through qualifying include Lucy Octave, who beat Bejenaru in last month’s Ulster Senior Championship final, Emily Beatty, Laura Reid along with the McCullough sisters, Caitlin and Annie.