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Public Courts: Walker, Kent set up rematch

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Patrick Walker had to grind, battle and survive, but after a grueling three-set win, he set up a final match for the record books -- literally.

The men's open singles No. 1 seed dropped the first set and was down 4-3 in the third before rallying for a 4-6, 6-0, 6-4 win over Mark Cassis in a semifinal match on Thursday night at the Charleston Public Courts tennis tournament.

Walker will square off with No. 3 seed James Kent at 9 a.m. Saturday in a finals match that oozes with significance.

Consider Kent, a Capital High graduate who knocked off Bogdan Matei in the other semifinal 6-2, 6-2 on Thursday, is currently tied with Hurricane native Kevin Ball for the most men's open titles with seven. Walker sits one behind with six.

After winning last year's open title, Walker voiced his wish for Kent to come back and play again.

Wish granted.

"He's looking like he's playing well, so I look forward to it," Walker said. "We always have really good matches. [Joining him at seven] would mean a lot to me, especially against him. We've always battled over the years and I always want to keep getting him in tournaments and keep him playing so we can keep battling. It's fun playing against him and he's always respectful, so I'll have a blast."

Cassis, who won the Class AA-A No. 1 singles championship as a senior this year at Charleston Catholic, sure didn't make it easy on Walker.

Down 4-3 in the first set, Cassis captured the last three games to take the first set, keeping Walker's thunderous serve in play enough to settle in and counter.

"I wasn't expecting that first set," Cassis said. "Then Pat picked up his game and I think I was still thinking about the first set and he way outplayed me in the second set. Luckily, I was able to regain some focus and make it tight."

"Mark's always tough, he always brings it," Walker said. "I hate playing him, but I love playing him. He's a good kid. He's a good player, a solid player, always has been and always will be."

Walker seemed to kick it up a notch in the second set, cruising through and seemingly grabbing all the momentum heading into the third and deciding set.

"That was me settling down and keeping balls in the court," Walker said. "He stayed with me, though. Even though it was 6-0, he was still there - I just came up with more shots. Experience comes sometimes and it goes sometimes, but he played well."

But down 2-1 in the third, Cassis had one more rally, claiming three of the next four games to grab an edge at 4-3 and put Walker on the brink.

Despite being on the ropes, Walker said he never wavered.

"I was confident in my serve," said Walker, a Huntington native. "There were times where I thought, 'He's going to pick it up, he's going to play like Mark always does and not miss balls.' But I just came up with better shots at the end and closed it out."

Indeed, the bottom fell out for Cassis as he made a handful of unforced errors and seemed to fall victim to the fatigue that comes with chasing Walker's scattered, scorching serve across the court all evening.

When Walker ripped his match-point serve beautifully to the back corner, Cassis didn't make any movement except toward the net for a handshake.

"It's ridiculous," Cassis said. "You have no idea where it's going and it kicks up so high. It's impossible to get on offense with his serve."

Kent will be left to deal with that serve on Saturday, though it's nothing he hasn't seen before.

Walker, a player Kent talked into playing in the Public Courts tournament years ago, owns a pair of wins over Kent in the finals, in 2006 and 2009.

However a record eighth men's open title for Kent on Saturday would surely go a long way toward easing the pain of those previous losses.

"He's going for eight, so we're going to leave it all out there, we're going to give it all we've got, and whoever comes out on top, comes out on top," Walker said. "We'll both be happy either way."

Reach Ryan Pritt at 304-348-7948, ryan.pritt@wvgazette.com, or follow him at twitter.com/RPritt.

 


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