Monday, October 6, 2014

Querrey wins title but predicts top 10 for Kozlov

Champion Sam Querrey, left, and runner-up Stefan Kozlov pose
with tournament director Brian Martinez. Photo by Paul Bauman
    SACRAMENTO, Calif. — Sam Querrey emphatically ended Stefan Kozlov's amazing run in the $100,000 Sacramento Pro Circuit Challenger but predicted stardom for the 16-year-old wild card.
   The top-seeded Querrey, a 6-foot-6 (1.98-meter) Davis Cup veteran who has been ranked as high as No. 17 in the world, overpowered Kozlov 6-3, 6-4 on Sunday for the title at the Natomas Racquet Club.
   "He's got every shot in the book," marveled Querrey, who has practiced often with Kozlov but had never played him in a match. "If he keeps on the path he's on, he can be a top-10 player one day."
   By reaching his first Challenger final in only his third attempt, Kozlov soared from No. 763 to No. 443. That makes Kozlov, a  resident of Pembroke Pines, Fla., in the Miami area who was named after Stefan Edberg, the youngest player in the top 500.
   Querrey, meanwhile, has won 12 straight matches since losing to top-ranked Novak Djokovic 6-3, 6-2, 6-2 in the third round of the U.S. Open. Not that it mattered, but Querrey did not face a seed in the Sacramento Challenger.
   Querrey, who captured the $50,000 Napa Valley Challenger the week before Sacramento, will try to sweep the Northern California swing in this week's $100,000 First Republic Bank Tiburon Challenger at the Tiburon Peninsula Club.
Querrey will try to sweep the three-week Northern California
swing by winning the $100,000 Tiburon Challenger.
Photo by Paul Bauman
   "It'd be great," said Querrey, who was born across the bay from Tiburon in San Francisco. "A win's a win. It doesn't matter what level. I feel good right now, feel confident, and I'm already looking forward to next week."
    Kozlov was entered in Tiburon but decided to rest after his tiring week in Sacramento, where the temperature climbed to 95 degrees (35 Celsius).
    "I'm pretty beat up," said the 5-foot-10 (1.78-meter) Kozlov, who showed remarkable mental toughness by winning his four previous matches in the tournament in three sets.
   Kozlov's next tournament will be in two weeks on an indoor hardcourt in Valencia, Spain. He received a wild card in the tournament on the ATP World Tour, the major leagues of men's tennis. Challengers are comparable to Triple A in baseball. 
   Querrey fell one spot to No. 48 despite winning the Sacramento title because he reached the quarterfinals in Beijing on the ATP tour during the corresponding week last year. The ranking points he earned for that result were replaced on the computer by his Sacramento points.
   Querrey's goal for the rest of the year is to raise his ranking to No. 32 or better so he can be seeded in the Australian Open in January. That would prevent him from meeting another seed — hello Djokovic, Rafael Nadal, Roger Federer, Andy Murray, et al. — in at least the first two rounds. 
   "I want to just put myself in good position for the start of next year," said Querrey, who will turn 27 on Tuesday.
   Querrey was ranked No. 19 as recently as July 2013 but suffered an abdominal injury last October and a devastating loss to No. 175 James Ward in the United States' 3-1 upset loss to Great Britain in the first round of the Davis Cup in San Diego in February.
   Querrey decided the play in the Northern California Challengers for several reasons. He grew up in the state and lives in Las Vegas, he would have had to qualify for the ATP tournaments in Asia, and he didn't want to travel there without a coach. Querrey split with David Nainkin earlier this year and hasn't replaced him.     
   In Sunday's final, Kozlov broke serve for a 3-2 lead in the first set, but Querrey reeled off the next four games for the set.
   Querrey recorded the only break of the second set to lead 4-3. From 30-30, Kozlov double-faulted and hit a risky drop shot that Querrey slugged for a forehand cross-court passing shot.
   Querrey closed the match with two of his 13 aces. He committed only one double fault and won 84 percent of the points on his first serve.
   "I had a little bit of a slow start, but I felt a lot of pressure out there," Querrey admitted. "He's a tough 16-year-old player, he'll get better and better as the years go on, and I thought he had a great tournament to make the finals. I'm happy to win and get through."
   Lamented Kozlov, who was born in Macedonia to Russian parents and moved to South Florida at 1: "It just wasn't clicking today. He didn't give me any rhythm; he was serving really well. I gave him a couple of (service) breaks, and that was enough."
   Querrey's check for $14,400 amounts to pocket change for a player who has amassed more than $5.7 million since turning pro out of Thousand Oaks High School in the Los Angeles area in 2006. Kozlov took home $8,480.
   Unseeded Adam Hubble and John-Patrick Smith of Australia beat second-seeded Peter Polansky and Adil Shamasdin of Canada 6-3, 6-2 for the doubles title.
   Smith also won last year's doubles crown with countryman Matt Reid. Polansky and Shamasdin were seeking their third straight title after winning in Napa and Lexington, Ky., in July.


  1. Great writing and coverage of the Sacramento tournament!

    1. Thank you very much for the kind words!

    2. Paul, that's probably the best story I've read on this match. Thanks for posting!

    3. This comment has been removed by the author.