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Gutsy McKeever is handling the heat of Co Antrim quest

 

By John Flack

Ronan McKeever certainly felt at home in the searing heat of Ballycastle yesterday as he booked his place in the semi-finals of the Co. Antrim Championship with a surprise win over Michael Blease.

The 19-year-old overcame the Windsor player in three sets - 6-3 2-6 6-4 - to earn a meeting with top seed Aaron Stubbs today.

Fermanagh-born McKeever is now employed as a tennis coach at the Soto Academy in southern Spain, where he has local company in the shape of Hillsborough professionals Peter and Sam Bothwell.

Being well used to the heat, he had no difficulty in coping with the sultry conditions in the Co. Antrim seaside resort, but dealing with his opponent was a different matter entirely.

Blease was seeded to win the match and progress to the last-four, and was a man in decent nick after reaching his first senior final, ironically in McKeever's home territory in Fermanagh, last month.

It didn't look good for the talented teenager when Blease levelled the match by taking the second set, but McKeever dug deep into his mental reserves to come through a marathon battle.

He said: "To be honest, I didn't have much left in the tank after the second set but I took a toilet break and gave myself a bit of a talking to.

"I suppose you could say I was playing mind games with myself and I just knew I had to find some extra energy from somewhere.

"I got myself really pumped up for the third set and, somehow, I found some physical and mental strength to draw upon.

"I made the most of the 20 seconds that you're allowed between points and, even when I was bouncing the ball between my serves, I was definitely getting myself psyched up.

"It was great to win, but I realise I am going to have to do it all over again when I play Aaron.

"He's not the top seed for no reason, but I'm telling myself it's everything to gain and not nothing to lose."

Stubbs, meanwhile, progressed with a straightforward 6-2 6-2 win over Ballynafeigh's Justin Gilmore.

Second seed Gareth McGreevy needed three sets to eliminate talented youngster Jakob Robb 6-0 3-6 6-1.

McGreevy will meet another rising star in the semis in Rory Cunningham, who pulled off an excellent 6-2 6-2 win over the experienced Larne player Adam Boyle.

In the ladies' singles event, top seed Kerri Russell and second-ranked Christine Duncan look set to renew their rivalry in Saturday's final as both came through their quarters unscathed yesterday.

Russell defeated Agata Jankowska 6-1 6-0 while Duncan was an equally impressive 6-0 6-2 winner over Helen Harvey.

Today, Russell will face Megan McGreevy, who beat Annie McCullough 7-6 6-0, while Duncan will square up to Bangor teenager Amy Rothwell, who had a closer 7-5 6-4 success over Annie's twin Caitlin.

Belfast Telegraph

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