Winning the new Ashland Bellefonte Cancer Center USTA Tennis Tournament put Rich Meade’s stamina to the test.
The 20-year-old from Ashland completed his run through the Men’s Open Singles draw by beating Wheelersburg’s Chad Pierron 6-4, 6-0 on Sunday afternoon at Bellefonte Country Club.
Meade began his trek with a draining 7-6, 6-4 victory Friday night over top-seeded Michael Cunningham, a former Georgetown College standout who is now an assistant coach there.
“It was tough,” Meade said. “I knew what I was getting into. He’s the No. 1 seed for a reason. Michael has a big serve, and he’s very good playing serve and volley. I think that match made me feel the way I do today.”
As in worn out.
After playing three more matches Saturday — one singles and two three-setters in doubles — Meade had to be back on the court Sunday morning for a singles semifinal.
“I couldn’t move when my alarm went off,” he said. “I didn’t think I could get out of bed. After a shower, I limbered up a little.”
Meade had to move well — and did — to get past Huntington’s Robert Skolik in a hard-fought match between current Division I players 6-3, 2-6, 6-4.
After about an hour break, Meade locked up with Pierron in a first-set battle. The match swung at the end of the set, with Meade prevailing in a long game during which he hit some sizzling passing shots and service returns.
“I was lucky Chad missed some first serves that game,” Meade said. “His serve is a big weapon. Some of them I couldn’t get to.”
Pierron’s gray Lipscomb University T shirt — he played there through the 2011-12 season — was soaked with sweat during the indoor match. Pierron, now a tennis instructor at BCC, was coming off a 6-3, 6-4 semifinal win Sunday morning over Gustavo Echeverria, a Georgetown College player from Chile.
Men’s Open Singles attracted a quality, 18-player field. Meade felt good his accomplishment, which carried a $500 prize. For college eligibility reasons, he could claim only his entry fee and travel expenses.
“There were a lot of good players here, especially local talent,” Meade said. “It’s satisfying. This is the first tournament I’ve won in a few years. I’ve been playing college matches.”
Meade also teamed up with younger brother Max in doubles for the first time. They advanced to the semifinals before losing in three sets to Brett Atcher and Danny Schmidt of Lexington.
“It was fun,” Rich said of the Meade duo. “We butted heads a little, but it was good for us.”
Rich finished his first season at Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton this spring, after transferring from Winthrop.
“Florida Atlantic was my original choice,” he said. “Their coach really wanted me out of high school, but didn’t have a spot at the time. It worked out, and I’ve definitely improved as a player. I had trouble with headaches and migraines when I first got there, but toward the end of the season I played some of the best tennis of my life.”
Earlier this summer, Meade spent three weeks visiting FAU teammate Jose Fantova, who lives in Spain. During the trip, Meade won three qualifying matches to make it into the main draw of an ATP Futures event in Portugal.
“It was a great experience,” he said. “I got to play on red clay for the first time.”
Skolik, who has been practicing with Meade, just finished his freshman year on the Eastern Illinois squad and moved up to No. 3 singles in the lineup. This summer, the first-year tournament at Bellefonte caught his attention.
“I was impressed,” Skolik said of the field. “I didn’t realize it would be this deep. I was glad to see the quality.”
Skolik finished 2-1 in singles, beginning with a 6-1, 6-4 win over Ukranian native Kateryna Yergina — the only female in the event. She played No. 1 at Virginia Commonwealth and has some experience at the professional level.
Yergina and Umang Chadda, director of tennis operations at BCC, played doubles together and won two matches. They forfeited Sunday’s final to Atcher and Schmidt because Yergina had another tournament commitment.
ROCKY STANLEY can be reached at email@example.com or (606) 326-2671.