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Lucy Octave is facing big battle to keep Ulster title

By John Flack

Lucy Octave is bracing herself for another showdown with Karola Bejenaru in the Keys Finance Ulster Senior Open at the Boat Club next month.

Last year Octave defied the odds and the seedings to beat the Romanian-born Windsor player in straight sets to lift the ladies singles title for the first time.

Since then the pair have largely gone their separate ways with the Donaghadee player's practice hours limited by examination commitments at Regent House.

Bejenaru, in contrast, has been busy on the ITF circuit and is currently ranked 103 at under-18 level, as she continues her preparation for a possible junior Grand Slam appearance later in the year. The French Open now looks unlikely but she has a real shot at making it to Wimbledon.

Speaking at yesterday's Ulster Senior Open launch, Octave indicated that the weather might prove to be her best ally in her title defence. "The conditions were dreadful last year for the final and the driving rain suited me better than Karola who was concerned about getting injured," said the 17-year-old.

"I was really proud to win the Ulster senior title for the first time in any event but I realise it's going to be more difficult this year.

"Karola has been playing really well at a high level while I have been busy recently with my studies and I actually have two exams during the Boat Club week.

"However I managed to fit in a couple of ITF tournaments in Malta over Easter and I played pretty well in those so I am looking forward to the tournament."

Bejenaru's coach Przemek Stec was also at yesterday's launch and he will be hoping to lift the men's singles title for the fifth time in the last six years.

He defeated Hilden's Alex Watt 6-1, 7-6 in the final last June and the pair could cross swords again in this year's decider.

"While it's nice to win, it's a pity there aren't more younger players out there to give us older guys, who are coaches most of the time, stiffer competition," said the Polish-born Windsor player.

The Ulster Open runs from June 1 to 5 and Tournament Director Chris Sanlon stresses that it's not just for elite players.

"We will also have graded events aimed mainly at club players and I would encourage anyone who enjoys tennis at a competitive level to make sure they enter before the closing date of May 27," he explained.

"Sponsorship is vital to the success of this tournament so we are delighted to have Keys Finance with us for a second year."

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