Thursday, September 29, 2016

Tempers flare as Mmoh upsets Kozlov in Tiburon

Qualifier Michael Mmoh follows through on a
leaping forehand during his victory over fellow
18-year-old U.S. phenom Stefan Kozlov, seeded
sixth, in the second round of the $100,000
Tiburon Challenger. Photo by Paul Bauman
   TIBURON, Calif. -- It took Stefan Kozlov all of two games on Wednesday to call for the supervisor.
   With qualifier Michael Mmoh serving at
1-0, Mmoh saved a break point on a ball that the sixth-seeded Kozlov insisted had bounced twice. The chair umpire informed Kozlov, however, that he could request the supervisor only on a changeover.
   Kozlov then asked Mmoh to concede the point. On Tuesday, Mmoh voluntarily did precisely that in his victory over Tennys Sandgren, who had hit an apparent ace that was called out at 40-0 during a key stage of the match. This time, Mmoh did not reply. Kozlov eventually broke serve anyway on a backhand cross-court passing shot.
   It took Mmoh only one more game to lose his temper. With Kozlov facing a break point at 1-1, Kozlov rifled an inside-out forehand passing shot on the chair umpire's side.
   "That ball was five feet out!" Mmoh screamed. "Are you serious, man?"
   Kozlov held serve for 2-1 but eventually lost 7-5, 6-4 in the second round of the $100,000 Wells Fargo Bank Tiburon Challenger.
   Tension was high in the matchup of 18-year-old American phenoms at the Tiburon Peninsula Club. The athletic, powerful Mmoh, ranked No. 356, reached his second Challenger quarterfinal and improved to 2-0 against the versatile Kozlov, ranked No. 152.
   Mmoh won the USTA boys 18 national title last month in Kalamazoo, Mich., to earn an automatic wild card in the U.S. Open. He lost to 55th-ranked Jeremy Chardy of France 6-4, 6-4, 6-1 in the first round at Flushing Meadows.
   "Michael is one of the most athletic people you will ever see on a tennis court," fellow U.S. prospect Reilly Opelka, a close friend of Mmoh's, told The New York Times last September. "There is nothing he can't do out there."
   Kozlov turned pro at the unheard-of age -- for a boy, at least -- of 14. He reached the final of the $100,000 Sacramento Challenger at 16, falling to U.S. Davis Cup veteran Sam Querrey. Afterward, Querrey predicted that Kozlov eventually would crack the top 10.
   Both Mmoh and Kozlov were named after prominent athletes and have highly international backgrounds.
   Mmoh is a one-man United Nations. He was born in Saudi Arabia to Tony Mmoh, a former journament professional and Olympian from Nigeria, and Geraldine O'Reilly, an Irishwoman who also holds Australian citizenship.
   Tony was coaching the Saudi Arabian Davis Cup team, and Geraldine, an avid tennis fan, was working in Saudi Arabia as a nurse at the time.
   Michael was named after Michael Jordan. Tony became infatuated with the NBA legend while attending St. Augustine's College (now St. Augustine's Univerity) in North Carolina and becoming a U.S. citizen.
   The Mmohs moved to Washington, D.C., when Michael was a child. He trains at the IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla.
   Kozlov and his younger tennis-playing brother, Boris, were named after Stefan Edberg and Boris Becker, respectively.
Kozlov fell to 0-2 against Mmoh.
Photo by Paul Bauman
   Stefan Kozlov was born in Macedonia and moved to South Florida with his Russian parents when he was 1. His father, Andrei, runs the Kozlov Miami Tennis Academy in Pembroke Pines, Fla.
   "We don't live in the biggest house or have the nicest cars," Kozlov said during the 2014 Sacramento Challenger. "We grind day by day. If I do well here, I'm earning money for my family and my brother so he can travel to tournaments. I'm not playing for myself. I'm playing for my family. I'm playing for a lot of things."
   The friction between Mmoh and Kozlov, who are close friends off the court, continued in the first set Wednesday.
   With Mmoh serving at 3-4, the 6-foot-1 (1.85-meter), 187-pound (85-kilogram) professional pounded a service winner for 15-0. Kozlov then admonished the chair umpire: "Next time, tell me when there are new balls. I had no idea."
   Mmoh promptly snapped at Kozlov: "He told you. Listen to the guy next time."
   Kozlov retorted, "You're supposed to raise your hand when there are new balls."
   Mmoh repeated, "Listen to the guy."
   The turning point in the match came with the 6-foot (1.83-meter), 175-pound (79-kilogram) Kozlov serving at 5-5 in the opening set. He lost his serve at love on an nonchalant, ill-advised forehand drop shot early in the point. Mmoh then overcame a 15-30 deficit to hold serve for the set on a runaround forehand passing shot set up by a big serve.
   Mmoh, who survived three match points in the first round before Sandgren retired with a lower back injury, will face second-seeded Bjorn Fratangelo, 23, of Boca Raton, Fla., in Friday's quarterfinals.
   It will be the second meeting between Mmoh and Fratangelo, the 2011 French Open boys singles champion who was named after Bjorn Borg. Mmoh prevailed 6-4, 5-7, 7-6 (6) in the second (final) round of qualifying in Memphis on the ATP World Tour, the major leagues of men's tennis, in February. Mmoh then lost to another 18-year-old American, Taylor Fritz, 6-3, 6-4.
   In the other quarterfinal in the bottom half of the Tiburon draw, Mitchell Krueger of Boca Raton will take on No. 3 seed and defending champion Tim Smyczek of Tampa, Fla.
   Krueger upset No. 8 seed and 2015 semifinalist Quentin Halys, a 19-year-old Frenchman, 6-4, 6-4 to reach the quarterfinals for the second consecutive year.
   Smyczek held off Sam Groth of Australia 7-5, 7-6 (11). Groth, a husky 6-foot-4 (1.93 meters) and 218 pounds (99 kilograms), set the unofficial record for the world's fastest serve of 163.7 mph (263.4 kph) in the 2102 Busan (South Korea) Challenger.
   The quarterfinals in the top half of the draw will be determined today.
   The tournament is being streamed live. Here are the singles and doubles draws and today's schedule.

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