Keegan Smith and Patrick Kawka dropped their tennis rackets on the court, raised their arms high in the air and then hugged each other.
The two young Americans were in a celebratory mood after claiming a thrilling 6-3, 3-6, (10-6) win over Jared Hiltzik and Dominik Koepfer in the doubles final of the Bakersfield Tennis Open on Sunday afternoon.
“It’s pretty crazy,” Smith said. “…It’s almost surreal. It’s a weird feeling. It’s pretty awesome. It hasn’t set in yet but I want to enjoy the moment and then I want to go for it again and keep winning. Do some damage in doubles and singles and hopefully make a career out of it.”
The doubles final was the first of two exciting matches witnessed by the large contingent of spectators that gathered at Bakersfield Racquet Club for the last day of the week-long USTA Pro Circuit event.
Immediately following Smith and Kawka’s victory, No. 2 seed Dmitry Popko of Kazakhstan edged top-seeded Kimmer Coppejans of Belgium, 6-3, 7-6(6) for the tournament’s singles title.
“It’s a pretty good feeling now,” Popko said. “It’s always nice to win a tournament, especially here…This is going to help my ranking.”
Smith, an 18-year high schooler from San Diego, and Kawka, a 24-year old Las Vegas native, had never played doubles together prior to Round 1 of the tournament.
It was also the first time either had played doubles in the Main Draw of a pro tournament.
Neither of those things was apparent by the way they performed in downing frequent doubles partners Hiltzik and Koepfer.
Smith and Kawka were sharp and in sync throughout the match, their third of the tournament decided by a 10-point match tie break.
They jumped out to a quick start, taking four of the first five games on the way to winning the first set handily.
Both sides held serve through the first seven games of the second set. Leading 4-3, Hiltzik, a Chicago native and his German teammate Koepfer finally broke Kawaka and then held serve to force the 10-point match tie break.
Smith and Kawka never trailed in the tie break as they won all four points that Smith served including an ace that clinched the win.
Kawka did his part too. Just moments prior to Smith’s match-ending serve, he nailed a beautiful forehand crosscourt winner to make the score 9-5.
“To somehow find a way to win it (the tournament) with this guy (Smith) is unbelievable,” Kawka said. “…We’ve never played together before but we read each other well...It’s very important to have good doubles instincts together and we have that.”
Smith and Kawka earned $775 apiece in prize money for winning the double title. Hiltzik and Koepfer received $450 each for placing second.
Popko got $3,600 for winning the tournament’s singles title. Coppejans claimed $2,120 in prize money for being the runner-up.
The two singles combatants earned every penny. Coppejans ranked No. 200 in the world and Popko No. 211, battled each other relentlessly for nearly two hours.
Most of the time they traded hard baseline shots waiting for each other to make a mistake. The difference in the match came down to a handful of unforced errors made by the normally flawless Coppejans.
“I didn’t play my best match,” Coppejans said. “I didn’t serve so well. Had some lapses where I was making a lot of mistakes. I played some good points as well but overall my performance could have been more consistent today. Dmitry was very consistent. He did a great job. He was too good today.”
Popko took control of the first set when he broke Coppejans’ serve to take 4-2 lead. Coppejans staved off set-point twice before finally losing the set.
Popko appeared to be on his way to a quick straight set victory after taking a 4-2 lead in the second set. But Coppejans fought back, winning the next three games to move ahead 5-4.
Both side then held serve, forcing a second set tie-break, which Coppejans led 3-0 before Popko won eight of the next 11 points to end things.
“I always had to concentrate and play my best tennis, otherwise he would have easily won,” Popko said. “I didn’t want to go to a third set so I was fighting and trying to finish it.”