KEEGAN SMITH'S FULL CIRCLE JOURNEY TO THEPRO TENNIS | USTA SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA
SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA OPEN
SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA OPEN
JANUARY 14, 2024 | LEXIE WANNINGER
KEEGAN SMITH'S FULL CIRCLE JOURNEY TO THE SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA OPENUSTA SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA
JANUARY 14, 2024
Keegan Smith competes at the 2023 SoCal Pro Series in San Diego.
(Photo – Lexie Wanninger/USTA SoCal)
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In the pulsating heart of the Smith family, the rhythmic bounce of tennis balls echoes through generations, weaving a rich tapestry of passion for the sport that seems ingrained in their very DNA. Keegan Smith, destined to wield a racquet from birth, finds himself immersed in a legacy where tennis is more than just a game — it’s a familial tradition. His brother, alongside cousins Tanner, Riley, and Colter, left an incredible mark on Southern California collegiate tennis as USC Trojans. Meanwhile, his uncle Peter not only graced the professional tennis arena but also coached USC to an impressive five NCAA championships. With a father who once dominated the courts at Tulane and a mother currently showcasing her skills on an Adult Leagues 4.5 team, the Smiths have crafted a narrative where love for tennis is the commonality in their family tale.
A San Diego native, a three-time CIF tennis champion, a singles and doubles titlist at the National Open Hard Court Championships, a 2017 Point Loma High School graduate, and 2019 NCAA Division I men’s doubles champion, Keegan has amassed quite a tennis resume in his 18 years of playing tournaments.
Smith appeared to have a promising professional future ahead. However, a traumatic skateboarding accident altered the course dramatically. The aftermath included an eight-day stay in the hospital ICU, a skull fracture, a seizure, a blood clot, swelling in his brain, memory loss, light sensitivity, depression, anxiety, and a plunge into darkness. Everything changed in an instant for the then-UCLA senior.
Keegan had a tough choice to make. He could have said his life was over, which it very well could have been. He could have said he wanted to give up. He could have said it was too hard and too painful. He could have quit.
“There was a moment in the hospital where I felt like ‘this was it,’” Smith said. “I battled for my life for a week straight as my father held me. I was having these full-body cramps and was in so much pain. I saw death so close in my eyes, and I would’ve met that fate if I gave up. I kept getting this weird feeling to relax and let in. I said, no. It’s not my time. I chose to fight. I made a decision to live more life.”
Keegan views his accident as a hidden blessing, providing him with a unique and profound perspective that many his age overlook. His experience ignited a passionate drive within him, inspiring him to embrace each day to the fullest in both tennis and life.
“I was told by the doctor that he’d seen many die from smaller things that had all tried to take me. It didn’t. I was too strong, but it was the hardest eight days of my life battling with the worst physical and psychological pain I had ever endured in my life. I experienced depression and anxiety. Things I had never gone through in my life. It was crippling at times. It was really tough to get out of bed and see the bright side of things.” Keegan recalled. “I now have a much different outlook on life. I am so grateful each day I wake up and I am recovering everyday better.”
Returning to the court was not easy in the slightest. It was very humbling, Keegan recalled: “I was out of breath after one rally. But I took a step back and thought to myself, ‘okay,’ I’ve got a second chance here. I’m going to go all in. I just need to keep fighting and remember my motivation as a player.”
Smith worked his way back up. He moved to Orlando to train full-time at the USTA national campus. He honed in on his diet. He rebuilt his legs and lungs. He started practicing yoga and meditation. He fine-tuned his mental game and developed his perspective.
Smith said having a new lease on life has changed his attitude and the way he lives. “I’m just so grateful waking up each day and breathing,” he said. “I was living kind of fast and did a bunch of stuff that people might see as dangerous. But I’ve slowed down a lot. I love my life. I’m happy to be here.”
When he is on court, Keegan’s fiery passion for the game is apparent. Off the court, however, Keegan is a bubbly guy that truly just enjoys life and other people’s company. He is always smiling, laughing, and having a great time with other players, spectators, and tournament staff. His goofy personality brings a light-hearted mood to the courts.
Despite unexpected challenges on his journey to the pros, Keegan has been growing, learning, and thriving since his return to the game two years ago. Climbing up the ATP rankings in both singles and doubles, he secured a main draw wild card for his first US Open in 2022, reaching the second round with partner Nicholas Monroe. Additionally, he participated in the ATP 250 event in his hometown and played in the qualifying singles and main draw doubles of the 2022 San Diego Open.
Over the summer, Keegan made his debut at the SoCal Pro Series, where he had multiple quarterfinal and semifinal appearances in singles and even a doubles final. While doubles may be his specialty, he considers singles as the substantial fare that satisfies his appetite. Smith had his sights set on the SoCal Pro Series’ ‘Race to Indian Wells’ qualifying wild card towards the 2024 BNP Paribas Open (ATP Masters 1000 event), which he termed as a “massive” incentive. Despite his valiant effort, Keegan finished fifth in the race.
“It’s really hard to get to the top. Much harder than I ever imagined and at times it can be so lonely and tough. But I will stay strong because I believe in myself and have many others to inspire and that believe in me as well,” Keegan said.
Playing in the SoCal Pro Series made him even hungrier for success. He is constantly pushing himself, and is ready to show everyone what he is truly capable of.
“My short-term goals include getting back to a ranking that allows me to compete in the main draws of Challengers consistently without needing to qualify.” “I am most looking forward to getting to the coveted top 100 and the chance to compete with the best players in the world at destinations like Indian Wells.”
When he’s not traveling the world playing ATP Challengers and other events, Keegan is preparing his physical and mental wellbeing. “I have been preparing for these events by continuing my work with the USTA West Center in Carson as we push my limits with strength work, conditioning, tennis skills, as well as flexibility,” Keegan explained.
Fast forward to January 2024, Keegan is thrilled to be competing in the two new ATP Challenger 50 events at the famed Indian Wells Tennis Garden in the Coachella Valley. Together, the events will be branded the Southern California Open.
“My initial thoughts about hearing about the Indian Wells Challengers were filled with excitement,” said Smith. “I was trying so hard to get the wild card into the qualies of the 2024 BNP Paribas Open during the seven-week SoCal Pro Series and fell short, so this for me feels like a consolation prize. I have so many great memories playing in the desert. This is so special to me that at the age of 25, I am still able to follow my dream and compete in a place I did when I was eight years old.”
When asked about how Challenger events play a role in his success as a player, Keegan explained, “As I continue to strive for the top, I see all my opportunities to compete as ways to improve my game and continue to flourish not only as a tennis player but as a man. These events are so important to me as I grow up as a player and understand my strengths and weaknesses.”
As far as the future goes, Keegan is working towards chasing his dreams of being the best version of himself. “At the end of the day, we’re just kids chasing our dreams, trying our best. I am most looking forward to getting to the coveted top 100 and the chance to compete with the best players in the world at destinations like Indian Wells.”
Follow Keegan’s journey on his Instagram: @keegan_smith23.