Cako returns eight years later to reclaim Pacific Northwest Open tennis throne

Jacqueline Cako tracks the ball on a return against Desirae Krawczyk during the women’s finals of the PNW tennis tournament at Tacoma Lawn Tennis Club on Sunday. Cako won 6-4, 6-2.
Jacqueline Cako tracks the ball on a return against Desirae Krawczyk during the women’s finals of the PNW tennis tournament at Tacoma Lawn Tennis Club on Sunday. Cako won 6-4, 6-2.

Jacqueline Cako cannot count the number of times growing up that she drove two hours from tiny Brier in Snohomish County to hit on the outdoor courts of Tacoma Lawn Tennis Club.

It was enough to make her the crowd favorite at this week’s 125th annual Pacific Northwest Open Tennis Championships.

She captured the women’s singles title as a 16-year-old amateur in 2008 — and had not been back since then.

But a break in her professional schedule allowed her to return this week.

And what a triumphant return it was. Using a booming serve, the top-seeded Cako downed third-seeded Desirae Krawczyk, 6-4, 6-2, in the women’s singles final Sunday afternoon.

The 24-year-old Cako became the first woman to win multiple tournament titles since Gail Brodsky won the second of her back-to-back crowns in 2012. Cako became the ninth multiple winner of this long-standing tournament.

“I grew up playing here, so I knew it was going to be a fun week because I know so many people,” Cako said. “And so many came up to say they were happy I was playing it because they had not seen me play in eight years.”

Cako used to come to Tacoma on Sundays as a teenager to hit with some of the best junior boys in the Northwest — just to get in repetition.

Once she graduated in 2009, she took a year off to consider her options of staying amateur. Eventually, she decided to attend Arizona State University.

That is where she met Krawczyk, who was her teammate for one season before Cako left and turned professional. Cako currently plays on the Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) Tour and the second-tier Challenger’s Tour.

The first two games of Sunday’s match went a long way in determining the outcome.

Krawczyk went up 30-0 on her serve in the opening game, only to lose it on four unforced errors.

She had a chance to break right back, putting Cako in a 0-40 hole.

But four more unforced errors let Cako right back into the game — one she captured with a big service winner to end it.

“I should have closed it out and played smarter points, but I didn’t,” Krawczyk said. “That was kind of the turning point.”

Cako kept the advantage all the way to the end of the first set, winning 6-4.

Tied 2-2 in the second set, Krawczyk, of Rancho Mirage, California, was broken on her serve when she left a back-handed drop shot in the net.

After that, Cako’s big serve took over.

“She’s always had that big serve,” Krawczyk said. “And she has the experience as well.”

That wasn’t only the big weapon on display Sunday. Third-seeded Henry Craig’s forehand was pretty dominant, too.

And the one guy who should be used to it was the player Craig faced in the men’s singles final — traveling roommate Samir Iftikhar, the No. 7 seed.

Both were newcomers to the tournament, and the 21-year-old Craig won easily, 6-3, 6-2.

“I hit the forehand really well today, and executed (the game plan) well,” said Craig, a former standout at the University of Denver. “I was patient with it, and that was a huge part of it. It was pretty windy, and we had a lot of long points, so pulling the trigger on it early can be dangerous.”

Craig broke Iftikhar in the second game of the match, closing it out with an overhead smash.

And he clinched the first set, 6-3, when his forehand volley clipped the net and dropped over as the winning point.

Craig, a California native, won the first four games of the second set. Both times he broke Iftikhar, the final point came on forehand winners.

“That has always been my best shot,” said Craig, who won his second tournament as a professional. He captured the Michael Chang Open last weekend in Newport Beach, California.

“I have always done a lot of forehand drills. And I have been working really hard on my serve.”