WHEELING - Tournaments that have been around for any long length of time must, at points, go through transformations and generations.
In its 53rd year, the West Virginia Tennis Open is no exception.
While there is no question that defending champion Jeremy McClelland only graduated from Wheeling Park High School in 2006, winner of five of the previous seven Men's Open Single events, it is some up-and-coming youths that could soon be pumping new blood into the tournament.
Photo by Scott McCloskey
One of the youngsters hoping to make a name for himself at this year's event is Youngstown's Garrett Gardner. The 17-year-old rising senior at Poland Seminary High School already has a little bit of a following locally, having won a junior tournament last summer on the Har-Tru courts at the Oglebay Tennis Center.
Playing in his first adult event, and seeded at No. 4 in the Men's Open, Gardner is hoping to take a couple more titles home to the Buckeye State this weekend.
The road won't be easy with McClelland, the No. 3 seed, and No. 1 seed and doubles partner Mitch Maroscher, standing in his way. Gardner and Maroscher are also the top-seeded doubles combo.
"I am very excited about playing in my first adult tournament," Gardner said Thursday before his opening-round match. "And having played on these courts and won last year at a junior's tournament is giving me even a little more confidence.
"There is a lot of good competition, but I want to play the best. I also have a blast playing against older players because there is always so much to learn from them and I want to take in all that I can. I am actually kind of surprised to be seeded at No. 4, but I think winning here last year kind of helped with that."
As for playing against Maroscher, if that comes about, it is an opponent and player he is very familiar with.
"Me and Mitch played against each other in the sectional final in high school last year and he beat me," Gardner recalled. "But he lives in Salem, which isn't too far away from me so we meet half way a lot and hit together all the time. We are both very competitive and honestly, about the same player."
Gardner says that it was his mother who introduced him to the sport at about 4 years old when she took him to the courts, handed him a racquet and gave him a hopper of balls. From there he took lessons and played in a number of leagues.
However, he quit playing in seventh grade to concentrate on football and basketball, a move that lasted just a year before he turned his attention to tennis full-time and started focusing on tournament play. His most recent tournament was the huge Midwest Closed Classic in which he finished with a 3-2 record, losing to the player that actually won the entire event and has already committed to play tennis at Stanford.
"There is nothing easy there, every player is just fantastic. But I have done well there and am very proud of how I played," Gardner added. "There is so much good tennis at home, but I like to get away to tournament like that and this one, and see some different players."
Gardner is also a three-year letterman at Poland, playing No. 2 singles as a freshman and No. 1 last year and this coming season. He made the Ohio state tournament in doubles as a freshman and last year in singles. He finished the regular season undefeated before losing to Maroscher in the sectional and then in the first-round of the state event.
As for future plans, Gardner is hoping to improve his SAT and ACT scores and to be awarded a scholarship to play tennis at a Division-I school.
"I know I have some things to work on both academically and my game, but I am working hard and hope to get to achieve my goal," he said. "I would love to play Division-I tennis and work on a career in criminal intelligence, and maybe get involved with the CIA or FBI."
As for now, however, Gardner's attention will be focused on trying to become one of the next best things at the West Virginia Open. Hopefully another match against Maroscher is in his very near future while a championship match standing next to his rival with also dot this weekend's agenda.