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"The Four Wall Game
Ann Arbor, Mich. -- Kelly Gelhaus proved last year was no fluke as he successfully defended his National Paddleball Association national open singles title here March 13, 2005.
Gelhaus, of Riverside, Calif., topped Mike Wisniewski, 21-15, 21-9, in the Old IM Building of the University of Michigan.
Wisniewski, of Bay City, Mich., has won eight national singles crowns. Next best is five victories for Steve Keeley in the 1970s.
Last year, Gelhaus easily defeated three-time champion Andy Mitchell in the final. It was Gelhaus's first NPA tournament and he was an unknown quantity.
Gelhaus's win this time was similar to his conquest in 2004 of Wisniewski in a semifinal, 21-13, 21-9.
Gelhaus, who will be 35 on July 17, did not display the skills he showed in last year's tournament. But he wasn't far off.
Both players started out slowly and the score was tied at six before each scored a point here and there, with neither establishing control.
Eventually, Gelhaus took a 14-8 lead with one of the points coming when one of Whiz's shots was let go by Gelhaus and the ball hit Wisniewski.
Wisniewski always seemed to be on the short end and was trailing, 15-11, when he got three straight points to cut it to a point deficit.
Gelhaus's 16th point was a little short of miraculous. The players got into a heated rally near the front of the court, during which Gelhaus was off balance and had his back to the front wall.
Somehow, Gelhaus slapped at the ball backwards, kept it in play and, after a few more hits, won the point.
Gelhaus then expanded his lead to 19-15 and 20-15 before winning the first game.
The finalists were playing in the Old IM Building's Court 14, site of the 1979 final between Keeley and Marty Hogan, a classic three-game struggle won by Hogan.
In the second game, Wisniewski stayed with Gelhaus early, with Gelhaus holding only a 9-8 lead. But after that, Gelhaus began to settle down and suddenly take control of the match.
Gelhaus, who said he picked up a paddle only a couple of weeks ago in preparation for the tournament, is very skillful. He's got all the shots. And more importantly, he usually controls the pace of the match.
He doesn't appear athletic but if he has to dive, he dives -- and he did that several times during well-played rallies. If he has to hit dink shots in the corners, he hits dink shots in the corners.
Those corner soft shots are a big part of his repertoire.
He makes several top-level open players look a little bewildered when he finally throws in a soft kill in the corner after running his opponent all over the court. Much of the time, his foe is off-balance.
That's the one thing that is very evident -- Kelly Gelhaus usually controls the tempo of the match. He doesn't look overly-excited out there.
Asked how he could play at this level while not playing paddles that much, Gelhaus said: "I play a pretty fundamental game. I don't reach over my head and try to hit an overhead backhand.
"He had me off balance in the first game. I had all that nervous energy and my legs wouldn't react. I didn't really feel comfortable until midway in the second game."
Gelhaus now has beaten convincingly everyone he has played in the last two National Singles Tournaments.
If he decides to play again next year, he's got a good chance for a three-peat. He's that good.
Only two players -- Mitchell and Steve Wilson -- have won three successive national NPA singles championships in the 44-year history of such events.
Gelhaus also teamed with Steve Lerner to win the 2004 NPA national open doubles crown.

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(Last update 03/14/05)