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Thrilled Karola to four as she lifts Irish prize again

 

Karola Bejenaru
Karola Bejenaru

By John Flack

Karola Bejenaru was crowned Irish national indoor champion for the fourth time in Dublin yesterday.

The 22-year-old Windsor ace defeated first-time finalist Caragh Courtney 6-4 6-4 in the decider.

Bejenaru was seldom in trouble against her less experienced opponent and managed to serve and return well and hit some great winners in a match lasting under two hours.

She said: "I was happy with the way I played all week and it's a special feeling winning the Irish title again as it's one of my favourite tournaments."

However, the Belfast woman was pushed all the way in Saturday's semi-final in which she defeated top seed and former champion Ruth Copas in a marathon battle.

In one of the longest ever contests in the Dublin showpiece, Bejenaru edged out the Ireland Federation Cup player 6-4 5-7 7-6 after more than four and a half hours.

However, Bejenaru showed little sign of fatigue in the final as she pressed her claims for a place in the Ireland senior team, although she is having a protracted battle to secure Irish or British citizenship in order to be eligible.

Her latest tournament victory comes as a boost for the Romanian-born player, who moved to Northern Ireland when she was nine, as she prepares to go back on the professional circuit.

Her recent career has been dogged by injury and occasional losses of form as she has slipped down the world rankings to 1,099, from a career high of 746 in 2016.

However, while Bejenaru was celebrating another national title, there was disappointment for two other Ulster players in the corresponding junior tournament.

Dylan Leeman, competing at Under-18 level for the first time, lost 6-1 4-6 6-4 to Andrew Gaule in the boys' final.

But the Hawarden teen put up a tremendous battle to take the top seed to three tight sets, having finished 2019 at No.1 in the Under-16 age group.

Bangor's Rachel McCrum, who was top-ranked in the girls' Under-16 event, also performed well only to go down 3-6 5-4 6-3 to Cliona Walsh.

Meanwhile, Dan Evans reached one of the highest levels of his career so far as he pulled off a shock triumph over David Goffin to keep Great Britain's hopes alive in the inaugural ATP Cup in Sydney.

Needing to beat Belgium to stay alive following their opening-day Group C defeat by Bulgaria, Britain got off to the worst possible start when Cameron Norrie suffered a surprise straight-sets defeat to veteran Steve Darcis.

However, British No.1 Evans defeated World No.11 Goffin 6-4 6-4 to send the tie into a deciding rubber and doubles pair Jamie Murray and Joe Salisbury duly obliged with a 6-3 7-6 (7) win over Sander Gille and Joran Vliegen.

"I felt that the level was good out there, I would say one of the highest levels I've played," said Evans.

"It felt that way and obviously it made it pretty sweet to have everyone (the crowd) there behind.

"And in this new format, I think it's a pretty good way to play having the seats behind in the corners.

"It's pretty cool to have it like that.

"It definitely helped to get me through the match."

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