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Alex Iliev sparkles in rain to net Senior Open spot

By John Flack

Bulgarian Alex Iliev, who once coached a French Open quarter-finalist, was among the first players to qualify for the men's championship singles at the Keys Finance Ulster Senior Open at the Boat Club last night.

Torrential rain, which flooded the courts, held up play for almost an hour but Iliev wasted no time in impressively overcoming English visitor Ernst Wellhausen 7-6, 6-0 to reach the first round of the tournament.

The 39-year-old, who is originally from Sofia, coached his compatriot Sesil Karatantcheva from 1998-2002 when she was a top junior.

She went on to reach the last eight at Roland Garros in 2005, beating Venus Williams along the way and only a few days ago beat another former world number one, Jelena Jankovic, at the same venue.

"Sesil was an outstanding junior player when I was coaching her but we lost touch after I moved to Lurgan 13 years ago and she ended up going to live in Kazakhstan at that time," said Iliev.

"I spend most of my time coaching at the club these days but I play a few veterans tournaments as well.

"I played well enough in my qualifier once I got used to his big, powerful serve and the conditions which were difficult for both of us."

Iliev's Lurgan club mate Caleb Ralston, Ben McClurg, Will Boyd, Ross McCarey and Michael Blease all joined him in the first round proper.

In the fiercely competitive B section, promising 11-year-old Boat Club player Ethan Hance produced the sensational result of the night, defeating Tom Noteman - who is 12 years older - 6-2, 0-6, 6-4 to earn a fascinating meeting with talented Justin Philpott in the last 16.

Results: Men's Championship singles - qualification: Caleb Ralston bt David McCrystal 6-3, 6-3; Will Boyd bt Daniel Henning-Cairo 6-3, 4-6, 7-5; Ben McClurg bt Stephen Douglas 6-2, 6-1; Alex Iliev bt Ernst Wellhausen 7-6, 6-0; Michael Blease bt Scott Burnside 6-3,6-2; Ross McCarey w/o Mark Smyth scr.

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