The third season of the USCTA National League ended with the most exciting finales in its history. Like with the past two seasons, Philadelphia was in the finals.
Last year Philadelphia had hosted Tuxedo in the championshp match and had beaten them relatively easily, with Rob Whitehouse and Steve Virgona winning in straight sets. The year before Philadelphia had faced hosts New York in the inaugural finals and lost in an exciting match: Mike Gooding had defeated Whitehouse, Virgona took out James Stout and then Gooding & Stout had beaten Virgona & Barney Tanfield 8-4 in the doubles.
This year, with a compressed fixtures schedule due to the early staging of the U.S. Open and the Eliminators for the World Championships, the finals came in mid-January. The Racquet Club of Philadelphia again hosted. They faced the professionals from the Racquet & Tennis Club, with Greg Van Schaack and Arthur Whitcomb as notable New York fans down to cheer on the visiting side.
The first match, expected to be a pro forma result, turned out to be a dramatic upset. Rob Whitehouse had never beaten Mike Gooding, not in the two decades they have faced each other across the country. But here at the RCOP, Whitehouse ended the losing streak in dramatic fashion, winning 6-4, 6-5.
The next match also looked predictable, with Steve Virgona pulling no punches in a easy first set against James Stout. In the second, though, Stout began to hit with greater accuracy, cut down on errors and, when receiving, end points faster with main wall forces. The two southpaws hammered at each other and the second set inched along to 4-all. Stout grabbed the ninth game. It took nearly fifteen minutes to complete the tenth game. Both players had numerous game points. At one stretch, six balls in a row found their way into the dedans netting. Stout escaped with the set. The tennis was at as high a level as any had seen in years.
The third set again was neck and neck, with improbable get following improbable get. Virgona had a lead, Stout came back and at 5-5, hammer-and-tongs, railroads zipping, volleys crashing the grille. The match ended with Virgona clinching Philadelphia’s second National League title: 6-2, 4-6, 6-5.