Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Kozlov, 16, reaches first Challenger quarterfinal

Stefan Kozlov, 16, outlasted veteran John-
Patrick Smith to reach his first Challenger
quarterfinal. Photo by Paul Bauman
   SACRAMENTO, Calif. -- The kid was supposed to crack.
   Instead, the veteran did.
   Stefan Kozlov, a 16-year-old U.S. sensation, eked out a tense 6-4, 3-6, 6-4 victory over John-Patrick Smith, 25, of Australia today in the second round of the $100,000 Sacramento Pro Circuit Challenger.  
   Kozlov prevailed after 2 hours, 40 minutes on a warm, breezy day at the Natomas Racquet Club to reach his first Challenger quarterfinal in only his third attempt.
   Serving at 4-4 in the third set, Kozlov saved three break points before finally holding. The left-handed Smith then took a medical timeout to have his serving arm treated, perhaps in retaliation for the right-handed Kozlov taking one for the same reason after losing his serve for 3-2 in the final set.
   If Smith's timeout was meant to unnerve the precocious Kozlov, it didn't work. Smith saved one match point with a backhand volley that Kozlov thought was long. But on the next one, Smith sprayed a backhand wide.
   "I thought I was just mentally stronger at the end," said Kozlov, a wild card who will soar from No. 763 in the world to, at minimum, about No. 616 on Monday. "He's obviously a very good player, and it was one of the toughest matches I've played in a while. I'm just really lucky to get out of that one."
   Observed Smith: "I had some chances at 4-all in the third. If I get a break there, I'm pretty confident I would have served it out, but that's tennis."
   Smith, ranked No. 230 in singles and No. 77 in doubles, said he felt no pressure as the favorite.
   "Not really. Everyone is good here. It's a $100,000 Challenger. It's not as though it's a ($15,000) Futures. You have to expect every match to be tough. That's what I did," offered Smith, who won last year's Sacramento doubles title with countryman Matt Reid. 
   Nor did Kozlov find it strange that he might have been mentally tougher than Smith, who earned All-America honors in singles and doubles in all four years at the University of Tennessee All-American and graduated with bachelor's degrees in economics and business administration.
   "Mental strength has always been my weapon," said Kozlov, who turned professional at 14. "Today it paid off, and I'm happy to be in the quarterfinals."
Smith said he felt no pressure as the favor-
ite against Kozlov. Photo by Paul Bauman
   Kozlov will meet another former Tennessee All-American, 23-year-old Rhyne Williams, for the first time on Friday. Kozlov, who lives in the Miami suburb of Pembroke Pines, Fla., said he's "pretty good friends" with Williams, who trains up the road in Boca Raton, Fla.
   Williams turned pro after reaching the 2011 NCAA singles final at Stanford as a sophomore. He advanced to the Sacramento quarterfinals when Wayne Odesnik of Fort Lauderdale, Fla., retired with toe inflammation at 4-6, 2-4.
   Both Odesnik and Williams have won Sacramento Challenger titles. Odesnik triumphed in singles in 2007 at the Sutter Lawn Tennis Club, and Williams prevailed in doubles in 2012 at Natomas with former Tennessee teammate Tennys Sandgren.  
   In the other quarterfinal in the all-American bottom half of the draw, No. 2 seed Tim Smyczek of Tampa, Fla., will face No. 5 Denis Kudla of Boca Raton.
   None of the four quarterfinalists was born in Florida.
   Kozlov, who's named after International Tennis Hall of Famer Stefan Edberg, and Kudla moved from Eastern Europe to the United States at 1 with their families. Kozlov and his Russian parents emigrated from Macedonia to South Florida, and Kudla relocated from Ukraine to the Washington, D.C., area.
   Williams hails from Knoxville, Tenn., and Smyczek, last year's runner-up in Sacramento, is from Milwaukee.
   The quarterfinal matchups in the top half will be determined on Thursday.
   Kozlov was diplomatic when asked if Smith used gamesmanship by taking a medical timeout.
   "I'm not going to call him on that," Kozlov said. "I don't know. It personally helped me, and that's all I'm going to say."
   Kozlov elaborated, though, on how the timeout helped him.
   "It gave me time to think about what I'm going to do and gave me a little rest," he said.
   Kozlov, meanwhile, also took an injury timeout in the first set for a finger injury on his right hand and was warned at least twice during the match for time violations.
   When Smith was asked if there was gamesmanship in the match, he stared at a reporter and paused.
   "In what way? ... Obviously, you have to play within the time limit. As far as (Kozlov's) injury timeouts, he might have been injured, he might not have been," Smith replied.
   Several hours after the match, Kozlov was seen with ice wrapped around his right elbow and Smith won his doubles quarterfinal. 
At Natomas Racquet Club
Second-round singles
   Denis Kudla (5), United States, def. Elias Ymer, Sweden, 6-4, 2-6, 6-3.
   Stefan Kozlov, United States, def. John-Patrick Smith, Australia, 6-4, 3-6, 6-4.
   Rhyne Williams, United States, def. Wayne Odesnik, United States, 6-4, 4-2, retired.
   Tim Smyczek (2), United States, def. James McGee, Ireland, 6-4, 6-3.
First-round doubles
   Marcus Daniell and Artem Sitak (1), New Zealand, def. Rik de Voest, South Africa, and Matt Seeberger, Los Altos, 6-1, 7-6 (4).
   Alex Bolt, Australia, and Frank Dancevic, Canada, def. Liam Broady, Great Britain, and Jordan Thompson, Australia, 6-3, 6-3.
   Peter Polansky and Adil Shamasdin (2), Canada, def. Denis Kudla and Rhyne Williams, United States, 7-6 (6), 6-0.
   Daniel Nguyen and Eric Quigley, United States, def. Sebastian Bader, Austria, and Erik Elliott, United States, 7-5, 6-4.
Doubles quarterfinals
   Adam Hubble and John-Patrick Smith, Australia, def. Thiemo de Bakker and Wesley Koolhof, Netherlands, 6-4, 6-7 (6) [10-8].
Thursday's schedule
(Starting at 11 a.m.)
Court 1
   Marcos Giron, United States, vs. Bjorn Fratangelo, United States.
   Sam Querrey (1), United States, vs. Daniel Nguyen, United States (not before noon).
   Matt Reid, Australia, and Jose (Rubin) Statham, New Zealand, vs. Peter Polansky and Adil Shamasdin (2), Canada.
   Luca Vanni, Italy, vs. Jared Donaldson, United States (not before 4 p.m.).
Court 7
   Dimitar Kutrovsky, Bulgaria, vs. John Millman, Australia.
   Marcus Daniell and Artem Sitak (1), New Zealand, vs. Alex Bolt, Australia, and Frank Dancevic, Canada (not before 12:30 p.m.).
   Alex Kuznetsov and Vahid Mirzadeh, United States, vs. Daniel Nguyen and Eric Quigley, United States.

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