Wimbledon: Karola Bejenaru's delight as she nets SW19 chance
East Belfast teenager Karola Bejenaru is two victories away from making the main draw of junior Wimbledon.
The 16-year-old Windsor player made it into the qualifying draw which was announced last night and today faces the highly talented Hungarian Dalma Galfai.
Bejenaru, now ranked 168 in the world at under-18, faces Galfai in the opening round of qualifying which takes place at Roehampton – the headquarters of the Lawn Tennis Association.
Galfai is a year younger but she has already made it to number 70 in the world and is seen as a very big prospect in Hungary.
But Romanian-born Bejenaru says she is ready to cause an upset and set up a battle with either Mirabelle Njoze of Great Britain or Australian Olivia Tjanoramulia.
Bejenaru couldn't hide her delight when word came through that she had been handed a place in qualifying.
She said: "It's amazing to get this chance. Two wins and I could be playing in my first grand slam event.
"My dad and I only travelled across in the hope that I would get in because I was five on the alternate list but then a few people withdrew and I got in and now I hope to grab my chance.
"I have seen this girl Galfai before so I have an idea of what she is like, she has played at some of the same tournaments as me.
"It's going to be a lot different for us playing on grass rather than clay but any time I have played on grass I've really enjoyed it, so I'm going to be very positive going into the match."
For the greater part of the last three months, Karola and her dad Leonard, who delivers pizzas for Dominos, have been in Europe competing at grade one and grade two ITF under-18 events on clay, seeking to gain more ranking points.
Leonard explained: "All the investment is paying off. It has been tough, there has been a lot of sacrifice but now Karola has the chance that we have been hoping for.
"She has a tough draw against the Hungarian who is seeded three in the qualifying draw but she will give it everything."
Karola's Windsor coach, Przemek Stec, accepts that she is up against it but believes the experience will be crucial for her development.
"Karola has shown the rest of the juniors in Northern Ireland that it is possible with the right attitude and the talent to make it to the highest level," said Stec.
"I believe there is not a lot of difference between Karola and the very top girls, it's just a matter of her staying positive.
"This Hungarian girl is highly ranked and she will be the favourite so there is no pressure on Karola. But for Karola it's not just about the juniors, it's about going on to the senior level and this is great experience for her.
"There's not a massive jump between this level and the Challenger Tour, which is where we want Karola to be next year as well as the ITF juniors.
"A girl that Karola beat earlier this year, Anna Bondar, who's also from Hungary, has already won on the Challenger Tour.
"All I want is for Karola to go out and play her game because she has the power game to mix it with anyone and we'll see what happens."
Karola added: "If I could make it to the main draw, it would be a dream come true."