Tiafoe, Kozlov Advance to Kalamazoo 18s Final; Kypson, Rotsaert to Decide 16s Championship; Fritz and Opelka, Pereira and Thamma Win Doubles Titles
©Colette Lewis 2015--
Top seed Frances Tiafoe and No. 3 seed Stefan Kozlov are good friends, and have spent many hours playing practices matches against each other.
On Sunday, the friendship and the previous results will be put aside when they take the George Acker Court at Stowe Stadium in the USTA National 18s final, with a main draw wild card in the US Open to the winner.
Kozlov defeated No. 2 seed Taylor Fritz 7-6(3), 6-3 in the longer of the two semifinals, while Tiafoe ousted No. 4 seed Tommy Paul 6-3, 6-2.
Kozlov broke Fritz in the first game of the match, but Fritz broke right back, only to be broken for the second time in the third game. Kozlov had two set points serving for the opening set at 5-4, but couldn't convert and Fritz was back in the set.
Fritz double faulted at 15-40 in his next service game, giving Kozlov an opportunity to serve out the set a second time, but he was broken at love, meaning a tiebreaker would decide it. With Kozlov leading 4-3, Fritz was unable to win either point on his serve and Kozlov finally secured the set when Fritz's backhand went wide.
"It was tough," said the 17-year-old from Pembroke Pines, Florida. "I was having a lot of trouble on my service games today. I always lose confidence on my serve with him because he's so long, and he gets a lot of serves back. I was hitting normal second serves and he was just punishing them, which makes you lose confidence in your serve quickly. That's why I began throwing in double faults. I've never played him and served well, to be honest. He's a tough returner, one of the best honestly, in the tournament."
Kozlov held to open the second set and Fritz signaled he was not going away by coming back from 0-40 and saving a fourth break point in the four-deuce game to hold. He then asked for a trainer, who worked on his leg while Fritz lay prone on the court for four or five minutes.
"It was kind of weird because I was really angry with myself that I didn't break the game before," Kozlov said. "I was kind of steaming. I don't know if he did that on purpose, or if his knee was actually hurting. But I thought it worked well for both of us. We had some long games; I needed it. I took that break and I was like, yeah, thanks. I think I really executed well from that medical timeout until 4-1, 0-30. I should have kept pushing, but he served some big serves and I let go a little bit."
After his difficulty serving out the first set, Kozlov was determined not to make the same mistake in the second. Serving at 5-3 in the second, he missed a forehand at 30-all, giving Fritz a chance to get back on serve, but Kozlov played a signature point. A big Fritz backhand had him on the defensive, but he sensed a drop shot coming, tracked it down and guided a winner past an approaching Fritz.
"It was how deep I dug on that point," Kozlov said, who at first characterized himself as lucky to win the point, but then amended that to determined. "I wasn't going to give that point away. I'm not sure if it's my instincts, but I ran to the line to cover that backhand and then ran forward, because he's obviously going to drop shot, it's just common sense, for me at least."
A short-angle backhand gave Kozlov a match point, which he converted when Fritz, who was not nearly as sharp as he was against Michael Mmoh in the quarterfinals, netted a forehand.
By the time Kozlov was up a break in the second set, Tiafoe had posted his sixth consecutive straight-set victory, this one over the French Open boys champion Paul, after defeating the Wimbledon boys champion Reilly Opelka in the quarterfinals.
"Today I didn't make many mistakes off both sides," Tiafoe said. "Tommy's dangerous, he has a big game, so I just wanted to stay solid, hit the ball deep and when I have my opportunities, dictate. When I'm rushing people, that's when I'm pretty comfortable and that's what I did today. I didn't give him any breathing room."
The only hiccup in a nearly flawless match came at 5-1 in the second set, when Tiafoe was broken serving for a place in the final, but he came up with a great lob with Paul serving at 2-5, 30-all and Paul, who has been ill all week, double faulted on match point.
Tiafoe said he was a bit nervous to start because his pre-match routine is full of superstitions.
"I haven't been warming up here at all," said Tiafoe, who is 10 days older than his fellow 17-year-old Kozlov. "I've been warming up at the [Portage] Northern High School courts and the courts were wet, so I was freaking out. I'm really superstitious and Rybo (Alex Rybakov) was like, we have to hit [at Stowe], we can't hit on these courts, we might get hurt. I was losing it, but then I go out and play great."
Although he may be worried about keeping the same routine before every match, Tiafoe is not a player to avoid looking at the draw.
"I saw my draw and I was like, God," said Tiafoe. "Nathan [Ponwith, his fifth round opponent] is good, I played him here last year. Reilly's won Wimbledon, Tommy's won French Open, if Fritz wins, I play the world No. 1 junior, if Kozlov wins, I play the Wimbledon boys  finalist, you name it. But it's a great group, and you can only expect to see good tennis. Obviously, I've had a really good year so far, but it's not easy for me to come out, I'm supposed to beat these guys, even though they've had good years in the juniors. I'm supposed to win these matches, but if I lost, I wouldn't be too upset. Tommy's won Futures this year, Reilly's been playing well, so it's tough. I've got to be really dialed in. I can't play any loose points."
Tiafoe has played a best-of-five match previously, having won a USTA wild card that got him a place in the French Open main draw, but Kozlov will be playing his first in Sunday's final.
"I'm super excited, tight, it's weird," said Kozlov, who lost to Tiafoe in the Orange Bowl final in 2013, the last time they played in sanctioned competition. "I've never played three out of five. All I know is it's going to be long. Obviously, we're very good friends, but it's going to be a war on the court tomorrow. All the friendship goes away and it's just battling until you fall."
The boys 18s final will be played immediately following the 16s singles final, which will not feature the No. 1 seed, thanks to No. 3 seed Patrick Kypson's 6-3, 6-4 win over top seed JJ Wolf.
Kypson fell behind 2-0 in the opening set, but almost expected he would be in that scenario.
"I wasn't expecting to get broken the first game, but I knew he was going to come out hitting the ball really hard," said the 15-year-old from North Carolina. "But I got on the board with a good service game and slowly kind of chipped away and made him hit a lot of balls."
Wolf's wild forehand at 3-4, 30-40 gave Kypson the chance to serve out the first set, and he didn't waiver, finishing with a good first serve and a confident forehand winner into the open court.
In the second set, it was Kypson who got an early break, but he held on to his in a four-deuce game in which he saved four break points, making it 3-1. Kypson got an insurance break, which came in handy when he was unable at serve out the match at 5-2, but he didn't falter in his second chance.
"I didn't really play much offense today, but I was good on the defense," said Kypson. "I kind of got lucky, because he missed some on big points, but mentally I stayed in the match every point, so that was good."
Kypson's opponent in the final is No. 4 seed Alexandre Rotsaert, who defeated No. 8 seed Kyrylo Tsygura 6-3, 6-4.
Rotsaert finished both sets with a break, which was a testament to his mental toughness in the second set, when two unusual events led to his being broken serving for the match at 5-3.
He was called for a foot fault on his second serve to open the game and went down 15-40 after missing an overhead. Rotsaert saved one break point, but Tsygura broke a string and went he went to get a new racquet, the one he selected didn't have an overgrip, so he began wrapping it before the umpire gave him a time violation warning.
"I got a little nervous serving for it," said Rotsaert, 15. "I got a couple of bad calls, that foot fault was a little at the wrong time. I got a little nervous, he broke a string and the umpire gave him a little too much time, I thought I should have gotten that point. But it is what it is, and I was able to come back, read my notes and get back positive, play a positive match again."
Tsygura didn't give Rotsaert any pace to work with, but with a recent win over Tsygura at the Team USA playoffs in Boca Raton last week, Rotsaert was prepared for Tsygura's strategy.
"At the end, I started coming more to the net and I started finishing more and that's the game plan to beat him," said Rotsaert. "He's a very good player, he gets a lot of balls back, but the way to beat him is to overpower him, or move him side to side and come into the net. If you can successfully do that, you have a good chance of winning."
Kypson has beaten Rotsaert in their last two meetings, both in three sets on clay in May's Florida ITF tournaments.
"The first time we played he was up a set and 5-3, and I came back and won 6-1 in the third," said Kypson. "In Plantation, he was up a set and 4-1 and I came back and won 7-6 in the third. So I'm hoping to get a little better start tomorrow."
The 16s boys doubles champions, No. 8 seeds Ivan Thamma and Bryce Pereira, dropped the opening set in both their semifinal matches on Friday and in the final against No. 7 seeds Danny Thomas and William Howells. The Southern Californians attributed that to the stage they were playing on, and once they adjusted, they cruised, beating Jackson Allen and Carson Haskins 3-6, 6-2, 6-2 on Friday and Howells and Thomas 2-6, 6-1, 6-1 in Saturday afternoon's final.
"My dad always tells me to check out the atmosphere, but I think we checked it out a little too much," Pereira said. "We got a little tight. But Ivan and I were telling each other, we've just got to get the ball in play and just focus on trying to embrace the moment."
"I was definitely nervous in the semi and final," said Thamma. "After the first, the nerves just went away and we started playing our game, relaxed and focused. We'd never been in such a big place, but after the first set losses, got ourselves back together and started playing."
"After we were down 5-0 and we won the two games, I was like, Bryce, the nerves are done," said Thamma. "Let's play some tennis now."
Thamma and Pereira have played together as far back as the 12s, and in all the USTA Nationals this year, while Howells and Thomas were playing together for the first time this week.
"We played in every Super National," said Thamma. "We won the Easter Bowl title and then at Clays, I got injured and I had to pull out of doubles, so I had to make it up to Bryce in Kalamazoo."
Thamma and Pereira used the memorabilia on display at the Markin Center for inspiration this week.
"Every match we warm up on the indoor courts and we pass the display that has Agassi, Sampras, Ashe, they're all there," Pereira said. "I remember looking at Ivan and saying, we're going to be up there some day."
Taylor Fritz and Reilly Opelka will make their US Open main draw debuts next month after winning the 18s national doubles title with a 6-3, 6-4 win over Parker Wynn and Joshua Sheehy.
Fritz and Opelka, the No. 2 seeds, did not face a break point in the late afternoon contest at Stowe Stadium against the No. 6 seeds.
"Today he served well and I served really well," said Opelka, who was also in the Wimbledon boys doubles final with another partner a month ago.
"As a team, that was probably the best we've served," said Fritz, who won the 16s title two years ago with Anudeep Kodali. "I'd say only 20, 30 percent of the serves came back."
"I hit my spots well," said Opelka. "It definitely took pressure off, especially at the end."
At 4-4 in the second set, Sheehy was broken and Opelka was ready to serve it out in the next game.
"Starting with an ace wide, then a service winner, then another ace here, it definitely helps," said Opelka, who had the crowd gasping at his serves and overheads.
"It was almost impossible to return their serves," said Sheehy. "They were just nailing the corners every time. I would just look up at the radar gun to see how fast it was every time I got aced. I saw a 128.
We held our serves good most of the time, but it was pretty much a serving battle to see who would win the match."
The two left-handers from Texas have been playing together for more than two years, and although they don't practice doubles together often, their teamwork impressed Opelka and Fritz.
"They really play textbook doubles," said Fritz, who has played with Opelka twice before but hadn't won a match with him until this week. "Serve and volley, how you're supposed to play doubles, and it's scary playing people like that."
"They're probably the best doubles team in the tournament," said Opelka. "We were just the best servers, and returners, actually."
"We returned a lot better than we thought we would," Fritz said.
Wynn and Sheehy have another chance to win a main draw wild card into the US Open in two weeks, when they participate in the US Open National Playoff finals in Connecticut.
"We won our sectional qualifier in Arlington a couple of weeks ago," said Wynn. "We go to New Haven at the end of the month, and hopefully we can convert on that second opportunity. We have another shot, and we'll take it."
Although seeded No. 2, Fritz and Opelka gave themselves little chance to actually win the title.
"You can't be thinking that when you've never won a match together," said Fritz. "No chance," added Opelka.
Keeping with the self-deprecating theme, Opelka and Fritz feel the same about their odds against the field in New York.
"Some team's got a really easy first round," Fritz joked. "Hopefully not the Bryans," Opelka said. "I want to stay far away from them."
Bronze balls matches saw No. 7 seeds Brandon Holt and Riley Smith take third place with a 4-6, 6-0, 6-4 win over No. 12 seeds Oliver Crawford and Johnathan Small in the 18s. Third place in the 16s went to unseeded Cody Lin and Andrew Ton, who beat No. 14 seed Jackson Allen and Carson Haskins 7-6(1), 2-6, 6-2.
Brandon Holt was named the recipient of this year's Allen B. Stowe Sportsmanship for the 18s.
The feed-in final for fifth place in the 18s will be between No. 9 seed Sam Riffice and No. 16 seed Zeke Clark. Due to Danny Thomas playing in the 16s doubles final, the 16s semifinals in feed-ins, as well as the final, we be played on Sunday.
The 16s singles final is scheduled for 11:30 a.m. on Sunday, followed by the 18s singles final. Live streaming is available here.
Complete results are available at ustaboys.com.
The girls 16s tournament concluded today in San Diego, with unseeded Abigail Desiatnikov defeating No. 15 seed Whitney Osuigwe in the final 6-1, 7-6(2). Top seeds Natasha Subhash and Ann Li won the doubles title, beating No. 5 seeds Anna Brylin and Clarissa Hand 6-0, 6-2.
The girls 18s final is Sunday, with No. 1 seed Tornado Alicia Black facing No. 3 seed Sonya Kenin. Black defeated No. 16 seed Sara Daavettila 6-1, 6-2 and Kenin got by No. 5 seed Raveena Kingsley 6-4, 3-6, 7-5.
Top seeds Black and Ingrid Neel won the 18s doubles title and a US Open main draw wild card with a 6-3, 6-3 victory over No. 2 seed Ena Shibahara and Jessie Aney.
Complete results are available at the TennisLink site.