Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Kozlov, 16, stuns Harrison in Sacramento Challenger

Teenage sensation Stefan Kozlov upset his mentor, Ryan Harrison,
6-1, 3-6, 6-3 in the first round of the Sacramento Challenger.
Photo by Paul Bauman
   SACRAMENTO, Calif. -- A few years ago, Ryan Harrison was in Stefan Kozlov's tennis shoes.
   U.S. teenage sensation. The next men's star in a nation starving for one. Future Grand Slam champion. Davis Cup hero.
   If only it were that simple. Since reaching No. 43 in the world two years ago at age 20, Harrison has gone into a tailspin.
   It's too soon to write off Harrison or anoint Kozlov, 16, as America's savior. But the future looks a whole lot brighter for Kozlov than his mentor at the moment.
   Kozlov stunned Harrison 6-1, 3-6, 6-3 on Monday in the first round of the $100,000 Sacramento Pro Circuit Challenger on a gorgeous, 81-degree (27.2 Celsius) day at the Natomas Racquet Club.
   It was Harrison's second opening-round loss to a U.S. teenager in six days. He fell to another potential star, 17-year-old Jared Donaldson, in the $50,000 Napa Challenger. 
   At No. 183, Harrison is the highest-ranked player Kozlov has beaten.
   "This one means the world to me," said Kozlov, a wild card ranked No. 763 who turned pro two years ago. "I've worked over the years, and this was a really important step into my professional career, to become a great professional."
   Another U.S. prospect, 18-year-old Collin Altamirano of Sacramento, did not fare as well. Altamirano, last year's USTA boys 18 hardcourt champion and this year's runner-up, lost to fifth-seeded Denis Kudla of Boca Raton, Fla., 6-1, 6-1 in 49 minutes.
   And Robby Ginepri, the only active American man to reach a Grand Slam singles semifinal, succumbed to James McGee of Ireland 6-4, 6-1. Ginepri, who will turn 32 next Tuesday, fell to Andre Agassi in five sets in the 2005 U.S. Open semis.
Harrison, who reached No. 43 in the world two years ago at 20,
lost to a U.S. teenager in the opening round for the second time
in six days. Photo by Paul Bauman
   Kozlov reached the Australian Open boys final in January at 15. The result raised his junior world ranking to No. 2, the highest by a U.S. boy since Andy Roddick climbed to No. 1 in 2000.
   Roddick, the 2003 U.S. Open champion, is the last American man to win a Grand Slam singles title.
   In July, Kozlov advanced to the boys singles and doubles finals at Wimbledon. Featured in Tennis magazine's U.S. Open issue, he retired from his boys singles quarterfinal at Flushing Meadows early this month with a foot injury.
   During the Open, U.S. Davis Cup captain and Tennis Channel commentator Jim Courier crowed on a broadcast: "USTA coaches have been talking to me about Kozlov for three years. His biggest asset is his mind. He's a very crafty player with a lot of variety. He'll be in the top 50 by the time he's 20."
   Kozlov is from Pembroke Pines, Fla., in the Miami area, and Harrison trains up the road in Boca Raton.
   "We're really good friends," said Kozlov, who's named after International Tennis Hall of Famer Stefan Edberg. "He's helped me over the years to progress into a professional, given me tips. I really appreciate everything he's done for me, and we had a good match."
   Kozlov, who's four inches (10.2 centimeters) shorter and 30 pounds (13.6 kilograms) lighter than the 6-foot-2 (1.88-meter), 185-pound (84-kilogram) Harrison, lacks the veteran's explosive serve and shotmaking.
   But Kozlov, in addition to smarts, has excellent movement and great hands. Against Harrison, he displayed a dangerous, flat forehand, solid backhand, deft volley and feathery lob. Overall, Kozlov got enough balls back that Harrison generally made the first mistake.
   Whereas Kozlov finds ways to win, Harrison tends to lose his temper when things don't go his way. 
   One point early in the second set was instructive. Kozlov not only returned an overhead smash but hit a lob just inside the baseline that Harrison sailed long. Harrison smashed his racket in frustration, incurring a warning.
   Of course, all the pressure was on Harrison as the favorite in the match. Kozlov had nothing to lose. And it was Harrison who cracked, double-faulting for the decisive break in the third set to give Kozlov a 4-2 lead.
   Kozlov's mental strength was especially apparent when he served for the match at 5-3 in the third set. Young players -- even experienced ones -- typically tighten up when they're on the verge of a big victory.
  Not Kozlov. Showing no signs of nerves, he held at 15 as Harrison sprayed a backhand down the line wide on match point.
   "It was a really mental match," Kozlov concluded. "I think our level (of play) was pretty similar. First set, I was mentally so solid. Second set, I was really unstable. I gave a game away (to suffer the only break of the set and trail 3-1). Third set, I just stayed tough and believed in my game, and I happened to win."
   Even though both players are American and Harrison has a short fuse, the crowd clearly favored the older player. Harrison was the bigger name, and maybe the fans sympathized with his plight.
   Kozlov admitted that the crowd's preference for Harrison "actually affected me a little bit. Third set, I didn't really care, but second set, it kind of got to me a little bit. After every point (for Harrison), they were kind of clapping, but I managed to stay tough."
At Natomas Racquet Club
Final-round singles qualifying
   Eric Quigley, United States, def. Thomas Fabbiano (2), Italy, 6-3, 6-7 (2), 6-3.
   Marcos Giron (8), United States, def. Nils Langer (4), Germany, 6-3, 6-7 (9), 7-6 (4).
   Dimitar Kutrovsky (5), Bulgaria, def. Mitchell Frank, United States, 6-2, 6-3.
   Liam Broady (3), Great Britain, def. Alexander Ritschard, Switzerland, 6-4, 6-0.
First-round singles
   Rhyne Williams, United States, def. Louk Sorensen, Ireland, 4-6, 7-6 (3), 7-6 (2).
   Stefan Kozlov, United States, def. Ryan Harrison, United States, 6-1, 3-6, 6-3.
   James McGee, Ireland, def. Robby Ginepri, United States, 6-4, 6-1.
   Denis Kudla (5), United States, def. Collin Altamirano, Sacramento, 6-1, 6-1.
Final-round doubles qualifying
   Liam Broady, Great Britain, and Jordan Thompson, Australia, def. Sebastian Bader, Austria, and Erik Elliott, United States, 7-6 (5), 1-6 [12-10].
First-round doubles
   Adam Hubble and John-Patrick Smith, Australia, def. Sekou Bangoura and Tennys Sandgren (4), United States, 6-1, 6-4.
   Thiemo de Bakker and Wesley Koolhof, Netherlands, def. Thomas Fabiano and Luca Vanni, Italy, 6-3, 6-4.
   Alex Kuznetsov and Vahid Mirzadeh, United States, def. Alexios Halebian, United States, and Dennis Novikov, San Jose, 5-7, 6-4 [10-2].
Today's schedule
(Starting at 10 a.m.)
Court 1
   John Millman, Australia, vs. Tennys Sandgren, United States.
   Bradley Klahn (3), United States, vs. John-Patrick Smith, Australia.
   Tim Smyczek (2), United States, vs. Jordan Thompson, Australia.
   Sam Querrey (1), United States, vs. Kyle Edmund, Great Britain (not before 4:30 p.m.)
Court 6
   Eric Quigley, United States, vs. Elias Ymer, Sweden.
   Alex Bolt, Australia, vs. Marcos Giron, United States.
   Liam Broady, Great Britain, vs. Luca Vanni, Italy.
   Michael Russell (4), United States, vs. Dimitar Kutrovsky, Bulgaria.
Court 7
   Frank Dancevic (8), Canada, vs. Bjorn Fratangelo, United States.
   Alex Kuznetsov, United States, vs. Daniel Nguyen, United States.
   Peter Polansky (6), Canada, vs. Wayne Odesnik, United States.
   Thiemo de Bakker (7), Netherlands, vs. Jared Donaldson, United States.
   Matt Reid, Australia, and Jose (Rubin) Statham, New Zealand, vs. James Cluskey and James McGee, Ireland. 

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