O'Halloran comes back to take title


As umpire Bryan 0'Neill handed in the score sheet of a breathtaking women's final in the Irish Indoors Open tennis championships at Riverview yesterday he could not resist the comment: "I should be giving this to Lesley (O'Halloran) to frame it".

O'Neill had just umpired a 2 hours 4 minutes final that saw O'Halloran turn escapologist. Her opponent, Phillipa Palmer, originally from Belfast but now playing full time out of the US, was mesmerised. She had won the first nine games on what seemed a certain winning role.

Ninety minutes later and having saved four match points, O'Halloran was the new champion for the first time on the bizarre score of 0-6 7-6 6-2.

"It's difficult to play when you "are beating your friend off the court," was Palmer's instant excuse for her eventual collapse. "It's also, difficult to readjust when your opponent is coming at you on a role like that", she added.

Palmer's world rankings has suffered because of inactivity over the past few months due to injury.

O'Halloran had to subdue her own natural game of pounding shot making to launch her recovery bid. "She blew me off the court in the first set. I felt I had no chance after losing it to love and going three down in the second. To be honest I was embarrassed at that stage and had to try something to get back into the game. I felt she tired, she had to do more with the ball from half way through the second set onwards. 1 also felt sorry for her. I know the feeling," admitted O'Halloran.

Once O'Halloran found the proper mix and Palmer's game began to wilt it was not all that surprising to see her save second set match points at 4-5, and 5-6 (twice) and later at 5-6 in a nail biting and pulsating second set tie break. She took the tie break, littered with mini breaks, at 8-6. Palmer had not got the heart to fight back. "I could not find the courage after losing the match points," she said.

The women are due to travel to Texas today to play the satellite circuit. "I told Lesley she should be still on the circuit. The furnisher business is not for her and she agreed to be my doubles partner for this trip," said a dejected, Palmer.

Jason Barnett (20) won the men's title by beating American student Jeff Clark 7-5 6-1. Barnett's economic style of power hitting from the base line had once more proved effective as it had done from day one.

Scotland's third ranked player, not unlike Palmer, had some explaining to do after been threatened with the loss of the first set despite going two breaks up for 4-0. Clark won the next five games only for Barnett to cooly halt the rot just in time and pocket the set in the 12th game.

Clark, noted all week for a certain slowness to get into his stride and assert authority with a powerfulserve volley game won the opening game of the second set from 0-40. This, however, was, his best effort. Three setters against George McGill in the quarter-final and against Robert Collins in the semi-final had taken it's toll. Barnett does not expend energy so liberally. All of his second set service games were won to love as he reeled off the last six games for the title.