WHEELING - Those in attendance Saturday morning at the Oglebay Tennis Center during the semifinal round of the West Virginia Open may not have noticed it, but several torches were being passed.
On Court 3, in the match between Jeremy McClelland and Keith Whittingham, it happened in the third set after McClelland took the second set, 6-0.
McClelland, the winner of five of the past seven Men's Open Singles titles, started falling behind Whittingham, who had been feeling extra pressure to win due to the fact that McClelland had been spending time off the court.
Wheeling Park alum Jeremy McClelland returns a shot Saturday.
Photo by Tony Viola
''I almost felt more pressure (Saturday) because we've played so many times and I've been playing a lot,'' Whittingham, 25, of Erie, Pa., explained ''I kinda got nervous in the second set because he started playing better and better and I started getting frustrated. But, I just kept my cool and I knew I had a third set coming with new balls.''
McClelland lost 6-3 in the final set to send Whittingham to the finals for the first time since the two met in the championship round two years ago.
''The third set, every game I played from behind, even the ones I won,'' McClelland, 25, of Wheeling, said. ''That's just not being match tough, match ready. But, you know, for not playing, I'm pretty happy with how I did.
''When we were younger, I won the majority of the time, but quite recently, I think the last five times we played, I've won two and he's one three.
''I hope he does well (today).''
While the two ''old guns'', as McClelland has been said to call the pair, were in the middle of that third set, two ''young guns'', Garrett Gardner and Mitchell Maroscher, were in an intense battle of their own on court two.
''Honestly, we were fighting tooth and nail and it came close, down to our serves,'' Gardner, a rising senior at Poland Seminary near Youngstown, Ohio, said. ''We both played some of the best tennis we could.''
Maroscher, however, played a little better as he took the match to earn his first ever trip to the championship round, essentially lighting a torch for a younger generation.
''It's good,'' Gardner, 19, of Salem, Ohio, said. ''It's a nice feeling.''
Whittingham and Gardner will meet today at 11:30 this morning to decide a new champion.
''He beat me indoors last year,'' Whittingham said of Maroscher. ''I've never played him here. He's gotten a lot better. A few years ago I would have played him, but he lost in the quarters. He's a really good player.''