After reaching the finals of two state tennis tournaments only to leave with an empty feeling, there were doubts in the back of Mike Clark's mind going into the final of the Maryland Clay Court tennis championships yesterday.
"Making the finals a couple of times and coming up short," Clark said yesterday, "it feels like after a while if you don't win it soon, maybe your game will go downhill before it goes up."
So Clark, 22, erased all doubts, taking an hour and 20 minutes to defeat Claude England, 6-2, 6-3, at the Baltimore Country Club.
"Absolutely, this is my biggest accomplishment in tennis," said Clark, the No. 4 seed, who took home the top prize of $500. "It's a real good feeling."
Winning the title is Clark's biggest tennis accomplishment, but perhaps his biggest win came earlier in the day against top-seeded Gil Schuerholz in the semifinals. Clark was winless in five career matches against Schuerholz -- including three this year -- but came out a 6-4, 6-2 winner yesterday.
"That was the biggest match I've had in a long time," Clark said. "I felt that if I could play at that level [in the championship], I had a chance to win."
England's semifinal was a marathon against No. 2 seed Jon Coss. After splitting the first two sets, England was trailing, 4-2, in the third set. But Coss' muscles began to tighten during the match, and England survived, 3-6, 6-2, 6-4, in a 2 1/2 -hour match.
That set up the championship, which England, 36, had won five times -- the latest in 1989. England started strong, and was on the verge of breaking Clark's service in the first game when he went up, 40-30. But Clark rallied with three straight points to take the game, and rallied with four straight points after falling behind, 40-15, in the second game to take a 2-0 lead -- and the momentum.
"It would have been nice to jump out two-love after playing the long match earlier," England said. "From there, it was always an uphill battle. Against someone like him, you have to stay ahead."
After winning the first set, Clark broke England's service in the second and fourth games of the second set to go up, 4-0. England won the next two games, but was unable to overcome Clark's consistent play.
"He played well, and he's very fast and covers the court exceptionally well," England said. "He makes you earn every point, something that every good player does."
His win over England gave Clark, an assistant pro at Bonnie View Country Club, a 4-2 advantage in their head-to-head play. It also concluded a tournament during which Clark did not drop a set.
"It's my first state title, and it really gives me a confidence boost," said Clark. "Now, I can go into every tournament feeling I can win it. Not that I'm going to win it, but thinking that I can."
In the doubles final, Mike Castrilli and Tom Bender defeated Rob Krizek and Denis Rende, 6-3, 3-6, 7-6 (7-0).