The Brazilian pair of Jose Loiola and Emanuel Rego teamed to win Sunday's $50,000 Assn. of Volleyball Professionals Open at Seal Beach, but the buzz afterward revolved around the play of David Swatik.
It was Swatik, in his first AVP tour final in five years, that turned the event into the best championship final of the season in front of a boisterous crowd of 3,300.
Though third-seeded Loiola-Rego beat Swatik and Brian Lewis in the double-elimination tournament, 18-16, Swatik played like a seasoned pro in his first championship game.
"That was an unbelievable final," said Loiola, the top-ranked player on the tour. "I can't believe Swatik played that well in his first final."
It was a far cry from the morning's winners' bracket final, in which Loiola-Rego defeated Lewis-Swatik, 15-6.
Swatik and Lewis, seeded sixth, got a second chance at the Brazilians by upsetting the top-seeded team, Karch Kiraly and Adam Johnson, 15-13, in the losers' bracket final.
Swatik had five aces in the championship, including two that turned a 13-12 deficit into a 14-13 lead, and he had a service winner to make it 16-15.
Swatik called it the best match of his career, even more so because he is from nearby Manhattan Beach.
"That's why it's more disappointing," he said. "It would be great to win here instead of New Jersey or someplace."
Unfortunately, for Swatik and Lewis, from Corona del Mar, the highlights ended at 16-15.
Rego served consecutive aces, and with Loiola serving, Rego's spike went off Swatik for the victory.
It ended the closest final of the tour's 14 events this season and sent Swatik to his knees in disbelief.
"I thought we were going to win the whole time," said Swatik, who split $5,937 for second place. "The only time I ever felt nervous was serving [while leading] 14-13."
He was also forced to make some tough decisions at the end. On Rego's big jump serves to take the lead, Swatik made a last-second attempt to pass from the back and only got a hand on the ball; on the other, he let it go and the ball hit the line.
"It's taken me a long time to get to this position, so I wasn't going to let nerves get in the way," said Swatik. "Those are split-second decisions. . . . The last one, I made a mistake by letting it go."
There are seven stops remaining on the tour, including Aug. 14-16 in Hermosa Beach.
Loiola and Rego won the $10,417 winners' share. Since Loiola split with Kent Steffes--they had won five of the first eight tournaments--Loiola and Rego have appeared in three of five finals together, winning twice.
Loiola and Rego got together to form a Brazilian tandem, and Loiola enjoyed the nationalism that existed throughout the match even though the crowd rooted against him.
"The key to beating them today was our passing and setting," Loiola said. "We both hit the ball hard and high, and that makes it tough for them because they're not as tall."
Loiola and Rego are each 6 feet 4 inches, while Swatik is 6-3 and Lewis 6-1.
Among tour leaders, Swatik moved into the top 10 for the first time (10th), and Rego moved to eighth (from 14th). Rego has won with three different partners this season, tying Steffes' tour record.
As teammates, Lewis and Swatik have finished third once, fifth five times, and seventh once.