Second Seed Kozlov Passes Tough Test in Opening Round of ITF Grade 1 International Spring Championships
An International Spring Championships finalist in 2012, 15-year-old Stefan Kozlov thought he was on his way out in the first round this year. Against wild card Ernesto Escobedo, Kozlov had dropped the first set, and had squandered a 3-1 lead in the second, losing three straight games.
Serving at 3-4, Kozlov was at deuce after a double fault, but he survived, winning the next two points. It was the boost of confidence he needed, and he took the next five games, and eventually, a 4-6, 6-4, 6-3 victory.
"In the second set, down a set and 4-3 deuce, I thought I was going down," said Kozlov, who reached the final of the ITF Grade A Copa Gerdau on Brazilian clay just ten days ago. "I started playing a lot more freely after I won that game, and I just came through some how, started playing well in the third set."
The 16-year-old Escobedo, who reached the semifinals of a Futures in Mexico in January and has an ATP ranking inside the Top 1000, immediately put Kozlov under pressure, winning the first three games of the match. Although the weather conditions on Tuesday were much better than on Monday, when the wind created havoc, Kozlov made a number of unforced errors and had difficulty staying in the longer points in the opening set.
Kozlov recovered to take the next three games, but serving at 4-5 in the first set, he threw in two double faults, the second to give Escobedo set point number two. Kozlov tried the surprise tactic of serving and volleying, but his backhand volley went wide, giving Escobedo the first set.
Late in the second set, Kozlov took a 5-4 lead when Escobedo made a series of unforced errors in one of his few loose games and Kozlov served out the set, hitting an ace to close it out.
With Kozlov finding more rhythm on both his serve and his ground game, he challenged Escobedo early in the third set, and Escobedo was unable to stay with him. Broken the first two times he served, Escobedo began flexing his left leg with what looked like a cramp, and Kozlov had two points to take a 4-0 lead, but Escobedo hung tough, broke and held to make it 3-2.
The match was well past two hours and many of the points included lengthy baseline rallies that challenged both players' stamina.
"I played three-hour matches in South America and doubles and felt fine," said Kozlov, who found the hard courts at the Home Depot Center more physically demanding. "Here, I played one match and am feeling it in a lot of places."
Although Escobedo, from West Covina, Calif., continued to fight, he couldn't get that second break back, with Kozlov serving better when he needed to. Kozlov held for 5-3, and Escobedo couldn't hold, netting a backhand at 30-40 to end the two and a half hour contest.
"I'm not complaining, but I thought maybe I should have made it not as long," said Kozlov, who did not play for three months at the end of last year due to an elbow injury. "It was a long first round and when I play tomorrow, it's going to be a little tougher."
Kozlov survived, but two more boys seeds fell Tuesday, with No. 7 seed Lucas Gomez of Mexico dropping a 0-6, 6-4, 6-2 decision to qualifier Stephen Watson, and No. 12 seed Michael Mmoh eliminated by lucky loser Jake Stefanik 6-3, 6-2.
The girls draw lost its first seed today, with No. 14 seed Tornado Black going out to Peggy Porter 7-5, 7-5. Porter had beaten Black at the ITF Grade 4 in Waco in 2011, and is coming off a trip to the final last week in the Claremont ITF.
Top seed Christina Makarova had no difficulty in her first match, beating qualifier Maia Magill 6-0, 6-2.
After the completion of the first round of singles, two wild cards remain in the boys draw: UCLA recruits Joe Di Giulio and Gage Brymer. In addition to lucky loser Stefanik and qualifier Watson, three other qualifiers advanced to the second round: Terrance Whitehurst, Thomas Mayronne and Stefan Doehler.
Girls wild cards into the second round are Spencer Liang, Alyssa Smith and Monica Robinson. Qualifiers advancing are Ellyse Hamlin, Kimberly Yee and Alexa Anton-Ohlmeyer.
The seeded players in the 16s took the courts for the first time on Tuesday, and both No. 1 seeds--William Blumberg and Ally Miller-Krasilnikov--reached the third round after straight-set wins.
For complete draws, see the tournament page at usta.com.