Kozlov Enjoying All-Surface Success In Challengers
Stefan Kozlov has already had a successful April by matching the biggest result of his career on the ATP Challenger Tour, but the American teenager has now shown that he can excel on all surfaces.
Competing this week at the $50,000 event in Tallahassee, Florida, the 18-year-old has come through qualifying and prevailed in two grueling main draw matches. After advancing past Jose Hernandez-Fernandez in an opening-round match on Tuesday that lasted well over three hours, Kozlov recorded a huge upset on Wednesday by defeating No. 2 seed Gerald Melzer in three sets.
“It’s been a few tough matches, but I feel fine and I’m recovering well,” said Kozlov. “I played in the qualies on Stadium Court and also practised on it, so I knew what to expect.”
Kozlov enjoyed a stellar junior career that saw him reach the boys’ singles final at the Australian Open and Wimbledon in 2014, leading him to peak that year at No. 2 in the ITF Junior Rankings. That October, he reached the finals of the $100,000 ATP Challenger Tour event in Sacramento, California. The feat made Kozlov the third-youngest American in a Challenger final, only behind Michael Chang and Andre Agassi.
After a somewhat more challenging 2015 season, Kozlov has rebounded strongly this year. In addition to winning three Futures titles, he also finished as runner-up earlier this month at the $100,000 ATP Challenger Tour event in Le Gosier, Guadeloupe. He credits a new coaching arrangement with Stanford Boster with helping take his game to the next level.
“We started working about a month and a half ago. Before that, I was spending a lot of my time with my dad at his academy in Miami,” explained Kozlov. “My dad helped me get my rhythm back and now Stanford is opening up my game to a lot of different things. It’s been awesome.”
Kozlov is one of seven different American teenagers to reach an ATP Challenger Tour final since last October. Although having so many young players pushing each other up the Emirates ATP Rankings is motivating for him on the court, he’s also been able to develop a strong friendship off the court with #NextGen star Frances Tiafoe.
“We’re the best of friends on tour. We hang out a lot together and we’re pretty close. I stayed with him at his apartment a couple of times during the off-season and hung out with Michael Mmoh as well,” said Kozlov. “We’re both pushing each other to do well and now that we’re both in the Top 200, we want to get into the Top 100 and catch up with Taylor Fritz. It’s good to have someone like that doing so well because we were playing with him just a couple of months ago, so we know we can get there too.”
Kozlov’s performance this week has already ensured that he will make his Top 200 debut when next week’s rankings are released. He’s been enjoying his time in Tallahassee “because it’s a well-run tournament and it’s close to home,” but is also looking forward to getting on the red clay of Europe next month.
“I didn’t think I was going to get my ranking high enough to head over to Europe, but then I had a couple of good weeks that put me over,” said Kozlov. “Playing qualies at Roland Garros is a milestone for me and I’m excited for it, so we’ll just see how it goes.”