Saturday, October 4, 2014

Kozlov, 16, survives big scare to reach semis

Stefan Kozlov, 16, outlasted Rhyne Williams 4-6, 7-6 (3), 6-4
to reach the semifinals of the $100,000 Sacramento Challenger.
Photo by Paul Bauman
   SACRAMENTO, Calif. -- Stefan Kozlov pulled off his most dramatic victory yet in the $100,000 Sacramento Pro Circuit Challenger on Friday.
   The 16-year-old wild card outlasted fellow American Rhyne Williams 4-6, 7-6 (3), 6-4 in 2 hours, 46 minutes in 90-degree (32.2 Celsius) heat at the Natomas Racquet Club to reach his first Challenger semifinal in only his third attempt. Challengers are equivalent to Triple A in baseball.
   Kozlov saved three break points at 3-4 in the third set, two on gutsy serve-and-volleys and one on Williams' ghastly long backhand return of a routine second serve.
   For all practical purposes, the 23-year-old Williams was done. Kozlov, potentially the male superstar the United States has waited so long for, won eight of the last nine points.
   Williams, who captured the 2012 Sacramento doubles title with former Tennessee teammate Tennys Sandgren, was broken at love to trail 4-5 and ended the match with three consecutive forehands long.
   Kozlov also was down a set and a break early in the second set and came within the tiebreaker of being bounced out of the tournament by Williams, ranked No. 211 in the world.
   Kozlov has won all three of his matches in the Sacramento Challenger in three sets. He stunned his mentor and fellow Floridian, 22-year-old Ryan Harrison, 6-1, 3-6, 6-3 in the first round and outdueled John-Patrick Smith, a 25-year-old left-hander from Australia, 6-4, 3-6, 6-4 in the second round.
Williams led by a set and a break early in the second set.
Photo by Paul Bauman
   Against Smith, Kozlov survived three break points at 4-4 in the third set before holding serve for the match.
   The hard-hitting Harrison is ranked No. 183 after reaching a career-high No. 43 two years ago. Smith is No. 230 in singles and No. 77 in doubles. He won last year's doubles title in Sacramento with countryman Matt Reid.
    "Every match I've played so far has been a mentally tough battle," said Kozlov, who spoke to his Russian father on the phone in fluent Russian after subduing Williams. "I've played three good players and gone into each match as an underdog, obviously, and I think I've just been the steadier one."
   Kozlov will meet second-seeded Tim Smyczek of Tampa, Fla., for the first time in today's first semifinal. Fortunately for Kozlov, at least, the match is scheduled to start at 10:30 a.m. on a day when the temperature is forecast to reach 95 degrees (35 Celsius).
   The 99th-ranked Smyczek (pronounced SMEE-check), last year's runner-up in Sacramento to Donald Young, dismissed fifth-seeded Denis Kudla of Boca Raton, Fla., 6-2, 6-1 in 61 minutes.
   Smyczek, who has not lost a set in the tournament, will be much fresher than Kozlov. The average length of Smyczek's three matches, 1 hour and 12 minutes, is exactly half of Kozlov's.
   However, all the pressure will be on the 26-year-old Smyczek as the favorite.
   "I think Smyczek is very good, to be honest. Not very good, but he's ... not very tall, like me," said Kozlov, who at 5-foot-10 (1.78 meters) is one inch (2.54 centimeters) taller than Smyczek. "He puts a lot of authority on every ball. He serves smart. I think he's just a really smart player."
   So is Kozlov, who was born in Macedonia and moved to South Florida at 1 with his parents. He and his 14-year-old brother, also a promising player, were named after Stefan Edberg and Boris Becker, respectively.
   In the second semifinal, top-seeded Sam Querrey of Las Vegas will face unseeded John Millman of Australia for the first time.
   The 6-foot-6 (1.98-meter) Querrey dispatched another top American prospect, 17-year-old Jared Donaldson, 6-2, 6-1 in 58 minutes. Donaldson, 6-foot-2 (1.88 meters), converted only 38 percent of his first serves. He had no aces and six double faults.
   Querrey, ranked No. 47 after climbing as high as No. 17 in 2011, has won 10 consecutive matches since losing to top-ranked Novak Djokovic 6-3, 6-2, 6-2 in the third round of the U.S. Open.
   Querrey's streak includes two wins against Slovakia in the Davis Cup in Chicago, five for the title in last week's $50,000 Napa Challenger and three in Sacramento.
   Millman, the 2010 Sacramento champion, dismantled American wild card Bjorn Fratangelo 6-1, 6-2 in 61 minutes.
   The right-handed Millman returned to competition in April after sitting out for 11 months because of right shoulder surgery.
   He said he has seen Querrey "play a fair bit, and he's pretty impressive player. He's a big, strapping lad. He's obviously got a really big serve, so you've got to try to nullify that and try to be really switched on with your returns. He tries to hit a lot of forehands and hits a really heavy ball.
   "I think what you've got to try and do is really look after your service games to try to maybe build a bit of pressure on his service games by making lots of returns. If I can do that, I'm sure I'll be in it."
At Natomas Racquet Club
Singles quarterfinals
   Tim Smyczek (2), United States, def. Denis Kudla (5), United States, 6-2, 6-1.
   John Millman, Australia, def. Bjorn Fratangelo, United States, 6-1, 6-2.
   Stefan Kozlov, United States, def. Rhyne Williams, United States, 4-6, 7-6 (3), 6-4.
   Sam Querrey (1), United States, def. Jared Donaldson, United States, 6-2, 6-1.
Doubles semifinals
   Peter Polansky and Adil Shamasdin (2), Canada, def. Daniel Nguyen and Eric Quigley, United States, 6-4, 6-2.
Today's schedule
(Starting at 10:30 a.m.)
Court 1
   Tim Smyczek (2), United States, vs. Stefan Kozlov, United States.
   Sam Querrey (1), United States, vs. John Millman, Australia.
   Marcus Daniell and Artem Sitak (1), New Zealand, vs. Adam Hubble and John-Patrick Smith, Australia.


  1. Amazing - Kozlov playing like a vet already. Cool-handed Smyczek should send him packing, but seems like Kozlov won't be the one to cave in order to make that happen. This should be a capital M Match!

  2. Wow! Kozlov does it again in beating Smyczek under tough conditions with the 3-6, 6-3, 7-6 win and booking his spot in the Sacramento final. To beat Harrison, Smith, Rhyne Williams and now the ever dependable Smyczek is a huge result. He keeps his cool and he could bag this title and soon book his spot in the big leagues. Get ready!