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Karola makes Irish switch after sealing Open crown


By John Flack

Newly-crowned Ulster Open champion Karola Bejenaru is set to switich her allegiance from Romania to Ireland with the ambition of representing her adopted country in the Federation Cup as early as next year.

Having passed one test on Saturday at the Boat Club, when she defeated title-holder Lucy Octave 6-2, 6-2 in the ladies singles final, the 19-year-old Windsor ace will hoping to succeed in another one today.

Bejenaru is due to sit a written examination in the first stage of her application for a British passport which, if she manages to acquire, would render her eligible to compete for Ireland as tennis is an all-island sport with players representing their country from both sides of the border.

After today's test, Bejenaru will then take part in an oral exam to demonstrate and acceptable level of proficiency in the English language - something which should not be a problem.

When she arrived in Belfast to join her parents in Northern Ireland 11 years ago, she didn't have a word of English but now she is completely fluent, having studied it at school. Bejenaru is now a full-time professional, competing mainly on the Futures Tour in ­tournaments with a total prize-fund of $15,000 thousand, although her recent appearances have been limited due to a series of injuries.

However, she is on the comeback trail following Saturday's success when she glimpses of her true form with a hard-hitting display to comfortably overcome Ocatve.

Bejenaru said: "I have ­gradually been getting back to full fitness and I have been training five days a week in Dublin with the national junior squads and receiving excellent coaching for which I am very grateful.

"I tend to travel up and down to Dublin rather than stay overnight so when I'm in Belfast, my coach Przemek Stec works with me and as he knows me so well, it is a good arrangement.

"Tennis Ireland have set me targets to gauge my progress on the professional tour as I attempt to get back up the rankings again after having a career-high of 746 last August.

"I was making excellent ­progress then but I then ­damaged ankle ligaments on October so that set me back a bit and then I got a hip injury which kept me out for two months.

"I hope to have the passport issue sorted before the end of the year and then I will be able to play Fed Cup for Ireland which would be amazing.

"I am a bit wary of the written test although I have been studying hard for it but I should have no problems with the oral exam.

"Tennis-wise, my next big tournament will be a $15,000 event in Dublin next month by which time I hope to be closer to getting British citizenship."

Meanhile, Karola's coach Stec surrendered his lengthy success record in the Ulster men's final when the six-times champion had to retire with an elbow injury when losing 5-2 to 17-year-old Jordan McKeown.

It has been a remarkable week for McKeown, who had shared success in the doubles final in Hillsborough seven days earlier when he and Peter ­Corrie defeated Ross McCarey and world-ranked 143 Dave O'Hare.

On Saturday Corrie lost in the final of the Irish Close ­tournament in Dublin, where Freddy Murray won the U14 ­title at the Leinster Junior Open.

Belfast Telegraph


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