The power of positive thinking, an unwillingness to lose, and a wicked backhand proved to be a winning combination for Daniel Kosakowski in his semifinal singles match in the Bakersfield Tennis Open.
The 22-year old from Downey overcame an ailing back and a slow start to beat a talented and hungry Collin Altamirano 3-6, 7-6 (7-2), 6-3 on Saturday night at Bakersfield Racquet Club.
"I think it was just my mentality throughout the match," Kosakowski said. "I just stayed positive even though I wasn't playing my best tennis. He was playing really well and kept being on top of me, but I just stayed positive."
Kosakowski, the No. 3 seed, will face No. 8 Mitchell Krueger, a 6-4, 6-3 semifinal winner over No. 7 Marek Michalicka, for the singles championship of the nine-day USTA Pro Circuit Futures Event.
The doubles final features top-seeded Sekou Bangoura and Evan King against No. 2 of Adam Chadaj and Michalicka.
The doubles championship is slated for 2 p.m., followed by the singles final.
After dropping the first set, Kosakowski hurt his back early in the second set and received treatment during a break between games.
Despite the injury, the former UCLA standout, currently ranked No. 366 in the world in singles, hung tough as Altamirano had him on the brink of elimination.
"I'm happy to come away with a victory," Kosakowski said. "It could have gone either way. He served for the match in the second set. I just kept fighting and hoping something good would happen. And eventually I was able to break back and win the second set tie-breaker and I played a good third set."
Altamirano, an 18-year-old high school senior, used a strong serve and tough baseline game to win three straight games, and take the first set.
Both players held serve through the first eight games of the second set. Altamirano finally broke Kosakowski and took a 5-4 lead. But Altamirano, the only non-professional in the tournament to advance to semifinals, quickly fell behind 40-0 in the would-be match-clinching game, and didn't recover.
"It's not easy to lose a match like that, where you're a couple of points away from winning," Altamirano said. "But I'll learn from it. I'll get better from it. It hurts now, but tomorrow I'll be fine."
Saturday's 2-1/2 hour, see-saw battle was a far cry from Kosakowski's 6-2, 6-2 victory over Altamirano when they met in Sept. 2012, when Altamirano was just 16.
"He's definitely improved a lot," Kosakowski said. "He's improved his serve, his forehand, his mental part of the game. He's a lot more mentally tough. Props to him for improving. He has a bright future ahead of him."
Kosakowski is hoping there's a championship in his own immediate-future.
"I'm really happy to be in the finals," he said "Hopefully my back will good for another battle."
Both doubles teams had to go to a 10-point match tie-break to win their semifinal on Friday night.
Bangoura, a 22-year old from Bradenton, Florida and King, a 21-year from Chicago have been friends for about a decade but just started playing doubles together last fall.
The two young Americans are going up against a pair of veteran European players in Chadaj (Warsaw, Poland) and Michalicka (Ricany, Czech Republic).
Chadaj, age 29, and Michalicka, 27, both have more elite-level tennis experience than either
Bangoura or King.
But Bangoura and King currently have higher world doubles rankings, No. 289 and No. 301 respectively, than Michalicka (No. 314) and Chadaj (No. 670).
Despite having played doubles together in just six tournaments prior to the Bakersfield Tennis Open, Bangoura and King have meshed well together.
"We know each other's tendencies and we're friends off the court so that makes it easy to play on the court," King said.
Michalicka, who played collegiately at the University of Wisconsin didn't turn pro until 2011 but has been competing in tournaments since he was 18.
Chadaj, a 5-foot-10, 158-pound lefty made the jump to professional tennis in 2001.
Bangoura lost a hard-fought three-set match to Michalicka in the quarterfinals of the singles main draw.
"I guess we know what to expect from one (of them)," Bangoura said."...But it's different in singles and doubles. We just have to come out with energy and be on the same page, moving together, and being aggressive with our serves and being aggressive with the returns."