Constance Sibille surprised by her Barnstaple tennis success
EVERY so often a player comes from the obscurity of the qualifying rounds to win matches and fans at the Barnstaple tournament, writes Andrew Jones.
In 2008, it was Lina Stanciute, a Lithuanian ranked 403rd in the world, who reached the last four before succumbing to injury in the third set against eventual runner-up Alberta Brianti.
Last year, it was Marta Domachowska, a Pole who had been as high as 34 in the world rankings but had slipped outside the top 200.
She made the final, only to run into the unstoppable Anne Keothavong and lose in straight sets.
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The 2012 version was a young Frenchwoman who seemed as baffled as anyone by her success.
Constance Sibille was ranked 477th before the tournament and had not played outside France or Belgium since May.
So perhaps it was understandable that she could not quite get her head around the idea of being in the spotlight in North Devon as the wins – including a second-round victory over Keothavong – mounted up.
Sibille, who turns 22 tomorrow, told a French newspaper the excitement of beating Keothavong meant she could not sleep until 4am and that journalists' requests for interviews left her asking "if there was a hidden camera, if this was not a fake tournament – I really thought it was a joke".
She ran out of steam in the semi-finals, suffering leg and stomach injuries that made serving painful, and lost in straight sets to Annika Beck.
Speaking to the Journal after that defeat, Sibille, who has leapt to 339 in the world rankings, said: "I have really enjoyed the tournament.
"My ranking was about 500 when I started and I made the semi-finals, so I'm very, very happy.
"Against Keothavong I played a very good match and in the quarter-final also (against Eva Birnerova) but, for sure, I was a little bit surprised (by how well I did)."
Those who saw the tall right-hander's strong serve and stunning forehand in a three-set win over Keothavong must have wondered how she came to have such a low ranking.
"I was injured for seven months last year and I didn't play a lot, so that's why my ranking is like this," said Sibille.
"I think, with what I show this week, that I can be better in the rankings but I have to work again."
While Sibille is on the rise, Keothavong, the 2008 and 2011 Barnstaple champion, is striving to halt a slide in the opposite direction.
The British No 3 threw her racket to the ground after an error-strewn 3-6, 6-3, 7-6(5) defeat to Sibille and she has now won only two main-draw matches since Wimbledon.
Naomi Broady was the best of the British, reaching the quarter-finals with one of the greatest wins of her career against Russia's Nina Bratchikova, the second seed and world No 85.
"I've not had the best of years so it's nice to have something go my way for once," said Broady, 22.
"I've felt for a while that my game has improved but I've not been getting the results.
"I know I can compete at the top level when it all comes together."
Broady was unfortunate to come up against the all-conquering Beck in the last eight, losing in straight sets.