Ireland Federation Cup player Ruth Copas will be the star attraction at this week’s Johnston Campbell North of Ireland Open which moves into full swing tonight at the Downshire club in Hillsborough.
The Dundalk native won the inaugural event two years ago when she defeated local woman Lynsey McCullough in the ladies singles final.
However, Copas was unable to defend her title 12 months ago due to Fed Cup commitments.
The 21-year-old will go into the tournament as the top seeded female while the local challenge will be spearheaded by Ulster inter-pro ace Emily Beatty.
Emily recently returned home after completing the third year of a four-year tennis scholarship at the University of Montevallo in Alabama.
She enjoyed a successful season on the College circuit, winning 21 out of her 25 matches between studying for a degree in communications.
A semi-finalist two years ago when she lost to McCullough in a third set tie-break, Emily has high hopes of at least emulating that achievement.
The 21-year-old said: “I am looking forward to playing on the courts where I learned my tennis at such an early age and I am really enjoying my time in America.”
“It’s pretty intensive with some 16 hours of lectures and 15 hours of tennis every week so it’s just nice to be home for what I hope will be a relaxing summer.
Tournament director Ross McCarey said: “We are delighted to have Johnston Campbell Wealth Management supporting is again.”
“It’s hard to believe it’s three years since our fledgling partnership began and to see it growing into one of Ireland’s most prestigious tournaments is amazing.”
Johnston Campbell Director Kerry McCaughan added: “We are proud to support the excellent work that Downshire Tennis Club is doing to develop the sport and look forward to another exciting week of competition.”
With a total prize fund of £3,000 with £1,000 up for grabs for the men’s singles champion, the North of Ireland Open is the province’s richest event.
Last year’s men’s champion Dave O’Hare is unable to defend his title due to injury, meaning that the Republic of Ireland’s Owen Kirk is the title favourite.
However, he will be wary of leading locals Alex Watt and Jordan McKeown, who is the current Ulster Senior Open champion.