For the first time in the event’s three-year history, there are eight seeded male entries in the prestigious Johnston Campbell North of Ireland Open tournament, which has been kicking off the local calendar this week.
The £1,000 top prize for the men’s singles winner is certainly an attraction and some of the country’s biggest names are taking part.
None more so than Peter Bothwell, who is seeded to win the tournament for the first time, as he prepares to make his competitive debut on his home courts later in the week.
Bothwell (23) has been in a rich vein of form in recent weeks on the pro tour on which he is ranked 617 in the world, just a few spots lower than his career best.
Limerick man Sam Barry is expected to meet Bothwell in Saturday’s final on his first appearance at the event while the entry is so strong that last years winner Jordan McKeown only squeezes into the seedings at joint fifth.
Dubliner Dorian Kos returns after making a quarter final exit last year while Thomas Brennan and another southerner Ammar Elamin, will be among the debutants at the Downshire showpiece, who are also seeded.
Top local is Lurgan’s Caleb Ralston, who is ranked joint third with Ulster senior inter-pro player Cian McDonnell joining McKeown further down the list.
Karl Donaldson made a winning start to his bid to progress with a 6-3, 6-4 victory over Donaghadee’s Peter Galt last night and could well meet fellow Ulster player Alex Watt in the penultimate stage of qualifying.
Meanwhile, David Lloyd teenager Rachel McCrum beat Omagh’s Nikki Hawkes 6-0, 6-2 in the ladies singles and is now due to face second seeded Hawarden player Jessica Leeman.
Title holder Caitlin McCullough is the favourite to retain her crown and is scheduled to start her campaign against either Caoimhe McDonnell or Isabella Connor in another tight game.