Alexander Zverev of Germany and Elizaveta Kulichkova of Russia saved their best tennis for last on Saturday, rolling to Australian Open championships on Rod Laver Arena.
Top seed Zverev, who was 0-4 against Kozlov coming into the match, started shakily, but once he got over his nerves, the 16-year-old raised his level, taking a 6-3, 6-0 victory.
Kozlov failed to take advantage of any of his ten break point opportunities, and once he rolled his left ankle down 2-0 in the second set, needing medical attention in mid-game, there wasn't much doubt about the outcome.
Zverev's serve was particularly effective; in addition to eight aces, he also came up with some excellent second serves when he needed them. On the Orange Bowl Har-Tru courts, where Kozlov had beaten Zverev 7-6, 6-0 last month, Zverev's serve didn't have the same impact as it did on the much faster hard courts in Melbourne. Kozlov's drop shot, which is usually effective against baseliners, wasn't particularly good the few times he used it, with Zverev's frequent trips to the net keeping Kozlov guessing.
The highlight for Kozlov probably came with Zverev serving in the sixth game of the first set, when he got four consecutive Zverev overheads back into play during a 28-shot rally, which Kozlov ended up winning. That made the score deuce, but rather than get frustrated by that amazing defense, Zverev won the next two points, helped by his big serves.
Kozlov was asked about that point in the press conference.
Q. You had that one good point against him where you returned four overheads and won that point. You remember that?
STEFAN KOZLOV: Yeah.
Q. Was that a first for you, returning four overheads?
STEFAN KOZLOV: No. I do that once a week.
Of course Kozlov was joking; no one does that once a year, let alone once a week, but it was yet another demonstration of his extraordinary court sense and anticipation.
A year older than Kozlov, Zverev, who has already won the ITF World Junior championship for 2013, may be done with junior events after bagging his first junior slam title. Once his ankles (he turned his right ankle in the semifinals) are back at 100%, Kozlov will concentrate on pro events until this summer, but is still expected to play the remaining three junior slams this year.
Girls champion Kulichkova, who beat unseeded Jana Fett of Croatia 6-2, 6-1, will turn 18 in April, is unlikely to play another junior event, having already reached 264 in the WTA rankings. Using a good first serve and some powerful groundstrokes, the fourth-seeded Kulichkova overcame the pressure of being the favorite and the unfamiliar surroundings to play freely. From the transcript:
But I was surprised that I didn't feel any pressure. I felt like I'm exactly where I should be. I felt really good on court.
Like I said, I felt I'm going to do this. I was pretty sure. I was really confidence. I was the girl who was expected to win.
I suspect the confidence she got from winning a $25,000 ITF Women's tournament earlier in the month in Hong Kong also was a factor, and Kulichkova fully expects to return to the Australian Open next year in the women's draw. As the girls champion, she will automatically receive a qualifying wild card, should she need it. Last year's champion Ana Konjuh, who, like Kulichkova won both singles and doubles, used her qualifying wild card to earn her way into the main draw. Kulichkova says her goal for 2014 is top 100; if she reaches that and stays there, she won't need to play qualifying.
The four transcripts from the junior press conferences are available at the Australian Open website, and I recommend you read them all. Zverev's comments on the difference between the pros and the juniors (not much) are especially interesting.
Also take some time to read the interview with doubles champions Robert Lindstedt and Lukasz Kubot, who defeated Eric Butorac and Raven Klaasen 6-3, 6-3 in the final. Lindstedt, who played college tennis at Pepperdine, had reached three straight Wimbledon finals with Horia Tecau from 2010-2012, losing them all, before breaking through for his first slam title this year in Melbourne, at age 36.
Junior Orange Bowl champion Claire Liu of the United States has reached the final at Les Petits As, the prestigious 14-and-under competition in Tarbes, France. Liu, the No. 4 seed, beat Katarina Zavatska of Ukraine 6-2, 6-4. The 13-year-old from Thousand Oaks will play No. 12 seed Bianca Andreescu of Canada in the final, after Andreescu came back to post a 2-6, 6-2, 6-4 win over unseeded Elysia Bolton of the US.
The boys final will be between unseeded wild card Rayane Roumane of France and No. 11 seed Nicola Kuhn of Germany. Roumane defeated Canadian Nicaise Muamba of Canada 7-6(4), 1-6, 7-6(4), while Teen Tennis champion Kuhn topped No. 12 seed Roscoe Bellamy of the US 7-5, 6-1.
Roumane already has one title, winning the doubles, again as an unseeded wild card, with Hugo Gaston. Roumane and Gaston defeated No. 8 seeds Evzen Holis and Tomas Jirousek of the Czech Republic 7-5, 2-6, 10-6. The girls doubles title went to top seed Olesya Pervushina and Anastasia Potapova of Russia, who beat Andreescu and Maria Tanasescu of Canada, the No. 3 seeds, 7-6(4), 6-2.
For complete draws, see the tournament website.