Familiarity breeds competition at PNW Open tennis

Familiarity is the theme of Sunday’s title matches at the 125th Pacific Northwest Open Tennis Championships.

Former college rivals and current road roommates Henry Craig and Samir Iftikhar will meet for the men’s championship while former Arizona State teammates Jacqueline Cako and Desirae Krawczyk will face off for the women’s crown.

On Saturday at Tacoma Lawn Tennis Club, the third-seeded Craig eliminated top-seeded Kyle McMorrow, the former University of Washington star, 6-2, 6-3. Iftikhar, seeded seventh, scored a straight set upset as well, 6-0, 7-5, over Seattle’s Spencer Furman, the fifth seed and a freshman-to-be at Duke University.

Craig holds a 2-1 edge in head-to-head matches with Iftikhar, all coming when the two-time Summit League player of the year starred at the University of Denver and Iftikhar was a nationally ranked player at the University of New Mexico.

“We developed mutual respect,” said Iftikhar. “That’s kind of refreshing and uncommon. In college you’re usually taught to be hostile to your opponents.”

They’ve kept in touch and are staying with the same host family during the PNW Open.

“Henry’s been playing aggressively this week,” said Iftikhar. “His game is all about confidence, so I’ve got to extend points, make him uncomfortable and not allow him to take a lot of big swings.”

Craig took control early in his first set against McMorrow, leading 5-1 and closing it out with a service game in which he didn’t lose a point. In the second set, McMorrow took his only lead at 1-0, but after a streak of three straight games in which one player broke the other’s serve, Craig pulled away to win.

“I attacked really well, my serve and return were really solid,” Craig said. “I watched (McMorrow) play earlier in the week and knew he wasn’t going to be overly aggressive. I knew I had to attack to win so I came out and ripped my forehand.”

Iftikhar breezed in his shutout first set against Furman, thanks to a wild first serve by the younger player that allowed Iftikhar to go after second serves and pick up points on double faults. But in the second set, Furman’s wildness vanished and he surged to a 4-1 lead before the momentum turned.

“I realized I was being too passive,” said Iftikhar, whose next scheduled competition will be as part of the Pakistan national team in a Davis Cup event at New Zealand. “He wasn’t missing anymore, so I had to go for a little bit more risk.”

Iftikhar pulled even at 4-4, lost a lengthy ninth game that included a 32-shot point won by Furman, before winning out to claim the match.

On the women’s side, the top-seeded Cako and third-seeded Krawczyk had less difficulty. Cako downed yet another Arizona State player, current Sun Devil Samantha Hampton, 6-1, 6-3, while Krawczyk topped Notre Dame signee Bess Waldram, 6-1, 6-0.

Krawczyk was a freshman at Arizona State during Cako’s final season. The two have often practiced against each other. They’ve played once in tournament play, with Cako coming out the winner in an event in Arizona.

“She’s really an experienced player, so she’s got that edge,” said Krawczyk, a left-handed player. “If I play my game, make her uncomfortable, I’ll have a chance to prevail.”

Cako doesn’t change anything facing a lefty and plans a simple approach, saying tennis “isn’t rocket science. I need to take care of my serve, move forward and put away balls.”

Cako played her entire match against Hampton clad in a long-sleeved pink shirt while each of the other three semifinalists wore sleeveless tops or dresses.

“It was cold when we started, and I get paranoid about my serve, my shoulders and my back,” Cako said. “I wanted to stay warm. When you’re serving 115 (mph), the torque is no joke.”