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Tennis: 25th appearance finally pays off

Sunday, August 03, 2003

By Phil Axelrod, Post-Gazette Sports Writer

John Chatlak will never forget the first time he played in the West Virginia Open at Oglebay Park in Wheeling, W.Va.

Or the last time, either.

"It was the first tournament I ever played," said Chatlak, 43, director of tennis at Oglebay the past 13 years. "I was 18, just a kid from Donora. I didn't know anything about tennis. I had played a little at Ringgold High School, but I just beat people by retrieving. I had zero strokes. All I did was run things down and outlast people."

He paused, then added, "I consider myself so much a better player today. I always felt I was getting better."

But in his first 24 appearances in the tournament, Chatlak's highest finish in singles was runner-up two years ago."

The 25th time proved to be the charm.

Despite playing with an aching right knee that might require surgery, Chatlak won the singles title with a 6-0, 3-6, 6-3 victory against Ted Becker of Columbus, Ohio, in the championship match.

"I knew that this was going to be my last time in the open division," Chatlak said. "Twenty-five years is enough."

A bum knee almost was too much.

"I barely made it through the finals," said Chatlak, who had torn ligaments in the knee 15 years ago. "It came back to haunt me. It's time for me to move on, take some time off."

Chatlak didn't have any downtime the past week. In addition to playing four matches, he was the tournament referee and the assistant tournament director.

"I was all over the place, from court to court," he said. "I was making sure things were running smoothly."

Chatlak didn't have any roadblocks until midway through the final, when his knee flared up and Becker's booming serve began to take its toll.

"I think I had a letdown after the first set," Chatlak said. "I expected a good match. He's much like me, getting better at an older age."

Unlike most teaching pros who say their game suffers because they don't have time to practice, Chatlak credits teaching with helping him grow as a player.

"I've learned a lot through teaching," he said. "It has affected my game in a positive way. I'm always adding things. I'm definitley more aggressive. I was just a pusher the first time I played in the tournament."

Chatlak's repertoire of strokes expanded after a solid career at California University of Pennsylvania.

"At around 25 or 26 I started becoming a player," he said. "I've done well on all surfaces, but the clay at Oglebay is my favorite. I'm a baseliner from way back. I had a lot of things going for me in this tournament. The draw wasn't that deep because some of the top players were missing, and I feel comfortable playing here."

Seeded No. 2, Chatlak got a break when top-seeded Mike McGrath lost to Becker in the semifinals.

"I've won other tournaments, but winning this one is extremely gratifying," Chatlak said. "It's still a big tournament, and this is sort of like my second home."

Tournament results

Men's 35 singles: Lloyd Adams defeated Leef Summerfield, 6-1, 1-6, 7-6.

Men's 45 singles: Gary McGrath defeated Gary Schwartz, 7-5, 6-4.

Men's 55 singles: Ted Sawyer defeated Dennis Posteraro, 2-6, 6-3, 6-3.

Men's 65 singles: Frank Barnett defeated Ron Tonidandel, 6-4, 6-2.

Men's Open doubles: Chris Mcgrath-Mike McGrath defeated Lloyd Adams-Raul Raymundo, 7-5, 6-1.

Men's 35 doubles: Tom Gorman-Carl Mickler defeated Lloyd Adams-Curt Fleming, 6-3, 7-5.

Men's 45 doubles: Chip Dean-Chuck Taylor defeated Rob Adsit-Gary Mendez, 6-4, 4-6, 6-4.

Men's 55 doubles: Tom Anderson-Walt Listuon defeated Ken Salmon-Jay Rensch, 6-7, 6-4, 6-4.

Women's Open singles: Johanna Dorsey defeated Kellie Schmitt, 7-5, 6-2.

Women's Open doubles: Kelli and Nikki Borza defeated Missy Bailey-Dorsey, 7-6, 6-4.

Women's 45 doubles: Jamie D'Angelo-Lisa Keylor defeated Colleen Geyer-Sue McGrath, 6-4, 6-3.

Mixed Open doubles: Becker-Dorsey defeated Jackie Hughes-Scott Kahler, 1-6, 6-4, 6-4.


Phil Axelrod can be reached at paxelrod@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1967.

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