A little more than a year ago, Max Nikkari and Brandon Miller were doubles partners for the Grand Junction High School boys tennis team. On Saturday, they were opponents on the opposite side of the net playing for the Western Slope Open No. 3 singles title.
"We've probably played close to a hundred times," Nikkari said. "It's always fun playing him."
Nikkari and Miller, who moved into the Fruita Monument enrollment area this summer, began last season as No. 2 doubles partners for Grand Junction. Nikkari moved up to No. 1 doubles and Miller played No. 3 doubles.
The two have known each other and played tennis for years, but it is still a bit unusual facing each other as rivals in high school after being teammates as freshmen.
"It was pretty weird because we are also good friends," Miller said. "I try not to care who I play, but I don't think I did much. He was just hitting good shots. He knows my game and what shots I don't like. He was hitting a lot of those."
Nikkari took command of the match and dictated play, defeating Miller 6-3, 6-1 at the Elliott Tennis Center on the campus of Colorado Mesa University. Nikkari's victory Saturday came a little more than a week after a tough three-set victory over Miller in a dual.
"We switched up the strategy," Nikkari said. "I played more aggressive, but did not rush it. I tried to get to the net when I could. I wanted to put the pressure on him to make the shots.
"It feels great to win the Western Slope (Open). I was confident I had the strokes and mindset to do it."
Miller was confident he could make the finals and was pleased even though this is his first year of playing singles in high school. He loves the challenge and opportunity to play singles.
"You are more alone on the court, which I prefer," Miller said. "You can be more stoic. When you are playing doubles, you need to show emotion for your partner. When you play singles, it's just you, so you can show as much or as little emotion as you can."
Miller will meet Nikkari for a third time next week in a dual. They could very well meet again in regionals in a month.
"We'll see if he can solve that puzzle," Fruita coach Clint Davis said. "Max is playing really well right now."
Regis won two of the three singles titles and three of the four doubles titles to win the team title with 188 points. Denver East was second with 179. The Angels won the No. 3 doubles title. Mountain Vista took third place with 164 points, Aspen was fourth with 143 and Grand Junction placed fifth with 132. Fruita Monument finished 10th with 96 and Central was 16th with six.
Grand Junction No. 2 singles player Cal Hegstrom also reached the finals, at No. 2 singles, but lost 6-4, 6-4 to Kosta Garger of Regis.
"I was playing really well; so was he," Hegstrom said. "It was a battle to see who would miss. I think that's the most balls I've ever hit in a tennis match.
"I'm proud of how I did reaching my first Western Slope final. I was thinking it would be a tough match."
Garger defeated Hegstrom 6-2, 6-2 in a dual on Thursday.
Grand Junction No. 1 singles player Cameron Weckerly took fourth place.
Fruita Monument's No. 1 singles player, Brandon Keller, took fifth place.
The Tigers' No. 1 and 2 doubles teams came through the consolation bracket to take fifth place. Fruita's No. 3 doubles team also placed fifth.