WHEELING - Defending West Virginia Open tennis champion Jeremy McClelland knew there was plenty at stake heading into the 2012 men's singles title match Sunday morning.
After all, not only was the Wheeling Park High graduate and former W.Va. State champion trying to capture his second championship in a row, he was also trying to equal Ron Mercer with his fifth singles championship overall.
Ironically, it was Mercer, a former coach of McClelland's growing up, who was standing on the other side of the net attempting to capture his sixth and put a little distance between the two.
But after falling behind early, losing the first set badly and a game in the second, McClelland came to life, caught fire and eventually caught his former mentor on the victory podium.
Coming from behind, McClelland won 12 of the final 13 games to record an impressive 2-6, 6-2, 6-0 victory against Mercer to capture his second straight men's singles title and match Mercer's five overall crowns at the Oglebay Tennis Complex.
On the women's side, Anna Smith became one of the youngest players to ever win a W.Va. Open title, advancing to the singles finals for the second consecutive year, and grabbing the gold hardware this time around.
Smith, a resident of Venetia, Pa., is 13 years old and preparing to enter the eighth grade this school year.
Using a much improved power game from a season ago, Smith rolled to a very impressive 6-1, 6-2, two-set victory against Georgetown University recruit Taylor Perz, who was making her first trip to the Open.
On the men's side, as he did years ago, Mercer was schooling McClelland early, making him run the entire court chasing shots and eventually gaining a prized 6-2 victory in the first set.
The second looked like it might be more of the same, and a quick victory for Mercer, who quickly captured the first game and was still knotted at 2-2 before McClelland got hot.
McClelland, who stands second in all-time victories at Duquesne University, then managed to roll off the next four games to take the second set 6-2 and send the match to a deciding third set.
With the sun beating down, and Mercer holding 20 years of age on McClelland, the teacher began wearing down and was obviously tiring as the student won the final six games and his fifth title.
It was the second meeting of the two Open legends, the first coming in last year's semifinals in which McClelland also won.
''I was a little nervous coming in, just like I was last year, and Ron was serving very well and I couldn't break him early on which led to me being on defense a good bit,'' McClelland said. ''He was really taking it too me early in the match.
''It was getting very frustrating, but I got a big hold when it was 2-2 in the second set and I told myself that I needed to break him right there. At that point I got my head back on straight, got the break and my confidence back and started playing more like myself.
''Ron is a phenomenal player and I honestly hope that I am just half as good as him in 20 years, I would consider that a great accomplishment.''
For Mercer it was all a matter of beginning the match very well, but sliding off later.
''I started off very good, I just didn't finish as well as I started,'' Mercer said. ''And Jeremy really started playing better. This is a very big title and I can tell you that it is an important thing to win five of them.
''There is a lot of prestige and history to this event.''
McClelland, meanwhile, was happy to get to play his mentor again, and beat him for his fifth crown.
''After that first set I told myself that I couldn't let this thing slip away and let him get up two championships on me again,'' McClelland said. ''I know Ron has 20 years on me, but I am getting older also and there are a lot of good, younger players coming here.
''It was our first time meeting in the finals here, but I think it is a great thing for the tournament to have two players with nine total titles playing in the finals. And it great to see him here still playing.
''His five titles are impressive because he won them back when the W.Va. Open was a really big tournament, and I know it will probably never be like it was before. But there are a lot of good younger players coming up and hopefully that will draw some even bigger names here as the years go on.''
On the women's end, Smith was in control from the outset. Gaining a big lead in the first set and cruising to a 6-1 victory before putting things away with a impressive 6-2 victory in the second.
While Smith is only 13 years old, she is still ranked third in the Middle States in the 18-year-old division and is not intimidated by the older girls, even on with such credentials as Perz.
Perz finished fourth in the Keystone state as a senior and is the all-time leader in victories at Pine-Richland High School, however, she was no match for Smith on Sunday.
''I really didn't think I played my best tennis in the finals last year, so I wanted to come out and play better (Sunday),'' Smith said. ''I am used to playing the older girls so there is no reason for me to be intimidated in something like this.
''I don't play a lot of clay tournaments and I think it actually helps that I don't play here at Oglebay much. I think I was just really ready to play (Sunday) and I just want to keep improving all that I can.''
Before the two singles championship matches began, long-time groundskeeper Joe Kolakowski was honored with a plaque from the Wheeling-Oglebay Tennis Club for his years of dedication and expertise taking care of the courts.
Kolakowski's talents have been echoed by many players from across the country, who consistently comment on the beauty of the facility and how well kept the courts are.