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Bothwell is homing in on maiden Open title

 

Showdown: Peter Bothwell, who will face holder Jordan McKeown in the final
Showdown: Peter Bothwell, who will face holder Jordan McKeown in the final

By John Flack

For the second year in a row there will be two local winners at the Johnston Campbell North of Ireland Open tournament after last night's semi-finals which were staged in dreadful conditions at the Downshire club in Hillsborough.

Peter Bothwell will face title holder Jordan McKeown in the men's singles final while Caitlin McCullough be out to retain the trophy when she plays second seed Jessica Leeman in the ladies' decider.

Bothwell, making his tournament debut on his home courts, defeated Dublin teenager Ammar Elamin 6-4, 6-3 while McKeown had a hard-fought 6-4, 6-3 success over another southern visitor, Thomas Brennan, in the men's semis.

In the ladies matches, McCullough won the family battle with her twin sister Annie 6-4, 7-5 and Leeman beat Christine Duncan 6-3, 6-4.

Bothwell was delighted with his victory on the courts where he learned the sport as a child before going on to bigger and better things on the pro tour.

Currently ranked just outside the world's top 600 and aspiring to go higher up the global list, the 23-year-old paid tribute to his opponent.

Bothwell said: "Ammar gave me a really tough match but I was reasonably happy with the way I played in extremely testing conditions.

"The rain isn't something I am used to being based in Spain and playing on the continent for much of the time so I just concentrated on getting my serve right and playing well from the back of the court.

"Mentally, I am feeling good and I am looking forward to playing Jordan for the first time in the final.

"It's been very enjoyable playing on the courts where I grew up watching my mum and dad playing league matches for Downshire, so, hopefully, I can do them proud in the final."

McKeown, meanwhile, says he is relishing the challenge of playing the Irish Davis Cup player in the decider after winning the top prize for the first time last summer.

The Bangor teenager staged a stunning comeback to defeat Brennan, who is currently undertaking a tennis scholarship in the United States.

McKeown came back from 4-1 down in the first set to win five games in a row and then capitalised on the only break of serve in the second to progress against the odds.

Brennan, who at 20, is a year older, is a former Irish number one at junior level while McKeown has only recently moved up to the senior ranks after winning at Hillsborough and the Boat Club last year.

Due to the high calibre entry, the Ulster youngster was seeded joint-fifth in the Downshire event this time around but, once again, defied the odds with another typically gritty display against Dubliner Brennan.

McKeown said: "I had to dig deep but I am so happy to have got through to the final once again. There will be no pressure on me playing Peter in the final as he will be expected to win but I am relishing the challenge.

"Obviously, the fact that he plays on the professional tour will mean that I am the underdog but I will give it my best shot.

"Rankings to me are just numbers so I am in with a chance of beating him and it will be a great test for me to see where I stand.

"I was actually one win away from meeting Peter at last year's Irish Open so I am happy to have the opportunity to play him and I can't wait for the match.

"I haven"t played any tournaments since the Open in Dublin last August but I have been playing for Castleknock in the tough Leinster league and I think that has helped my game."

In the ladies' final, Windsor player McCullough will start slight favourite to retain her title after defeating her sister to set up a clash with Leeman following her impressive win over last year's finalist Duncan.

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