Kent back at Public Courts for another run at No. 8
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- The last time James Kent played in the men's open singles event at the Charleston Public Courts tennis tournament was in 2010, when he was forced to retire in the semifinals due to a bad back.
That retirement lasted much longer than a single match as it turned out, as the seven-time champion has been absent from the event since.
That changed on Saturday as Kent quietly began a quest to reclaim a title he once owned.
After a tight first portion of the match, Kent wore down and overwhelmed Jacob Lorenz 6-3, 6-1 in earning a second-round win. Kent, the tournament's No. 3 seed, had a bye through the first round.
If Saturday is any indication, Kent knows he has a long hill to climb.
"He's the toughest first or second-round match I've ever had here, ever," Kent said.
Maybe it's a bit ironic that Kent chose this year to return.
The former Capital High School standout is currently tied for the most men's open championships in the event's history along with Hurricane native Kevin Ball.
Kent won all of his championships between 1997-2005 until giving way to a dominant stretch by reigning and defending champion Patrick Walker.
Walker currently has six titles under his belt and, after defeating Christopher Pratt in last year's final, didn't exactly hide his ultimate goal.
"[Six titles] means a lot," Walker said at the time. "It means I'm one step closer to James Kent. I'm hoping James gets out there so he can battle for the seventh one. I'm going for the record now obviously, but it's good. It means a lot to me."
Walker's wish has been granted, and if Kent and Walker can navigate the tough field, the two would meet for the title with Kent having a chance to defend his record.
The two met in the 2009 finals, with Walker taking the win.
But if it hadn't been for Kent, Walker might never have come to the Public Courts tournament at all.
"I used to work with him about 13 years ago and he's really turned into an unbelievable player," Kent said. "I wish I'd never told him about it to be honest, I'd have won a lot more."
Kent said he would welcome a rematch.
"We've had some battles over the years and I'd like to play Pat again at this tournament or another one," Kent said. "We hit from time to time, so we know each other's game pretty well. It's the same match every single time, I know what he's bringing to the table."
The 34-year-old Kent is aware that he will have to battle younger and fresher players in order to not only prevent Walker from tying his record, but to grab sole possession of it, as well.
But he believes he has enough left in the tank to get the job done.
"Yeah, I'm playing really solid, really consistent," Kent said. "I'm going to play one match at a time. I'm playing a lot of younger guys in this tournament that are playing more than I am, but I think I still have some game left."
Reach Ryan Pritt at 304-348-7948, firstname.lastname@example.org, or follow him at twitter.com/RPritt.