NEWS

Butorac and Kozlov fall at final stages; Wagner prevails

January 25, 2014 09:15 AM
Eric Butorac (left) and Raven Klaasen reached the Australian Open men's doubles final in their first Grand Slam as a team.
Stefan Kozlov, 15, came back from deficits in the first and second rounds to reached his first Grand Slam final.
With his victory on Saturday, David Wagner has now swept the quad singles and doubles in Melbourne each of the last two years.

By Matt Cronin, special to USTA.com
 
MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA – American Eric Butorac and his partner Raven Klaasen of South Africa had the tournament of their lives at the Australian Open, besting the legendary team of Patrick Rafter and Lleyton Hewitt, world No. 1s Bob and Mike Bryan, and two other doubles notables in Daniel Nestor and Nenad Zimonjic.

But in the final they ran up against a buzz saw of a team in Lukas Kubot and Robert Lindstedt and fell 6-3 6-3 in the final.
 
The Pole and Swede served about as well as they could and rose into the zone returning serve. They grabbed an early break in the first set and sat on it, and did the same in the second set. Butorac and Klaasen had a chance to break back in the final game of the match, when they held their first break point, but Klaasen netted a tough volley and their chance was gone.

In the end, however, they didn't feel like they played badly.
 
“They didn’t give us much of a look today,” Butorac said. “It’s one of those matches that you walk away and it’s hard to get upset because they blasted returns and they didn't miss balls. They hit balls hard to get every point started. Our looks were few and far between and we felt we were fighting for our lives on our serve. We probably felt how teams felt against us the way we were playing.”
 
Butorac and Klaasen just began playing together last October, so overall they were quite pleased that they clicked so well in their first Grand Slam together. Few new teams can meld together that quickly.
 
“Unbelievable experience,” Butorac said. “Playing on Hisense Arena twice, Rod Laver Arena twice, we are a relatively new team and I never would dreamed would be playing a Grand Slam final. Honestly when you get there it’s disappointing, but if you step away from it and take the results out of the equation, and look at the level and energy and positivity we brought, you grade yourself on that we did everything well over a long period of time.”
 
Both the American and South African are students of the game who watch video, go over stat sheets, look for patterns and break down X’s and O’s and have a coach who will take a look at it their performances, too. They are optimistic about their future.
 
“When we get to Indian Wells and Miami and Paris, we will be a better team," Butorac said. “But that's what it takes to compete at this level. We aren’t going to be able to sneak up on teams anymore so we need to raise our level and are excited to do that.”
 
American junior Stefan Kozlov’s Australian Open run also came to end in the final stage. He struggled to contend with two ankle sprains and went down to Alexander Zverev, 6-3, 6-0. Kozlov had twisted his right ankle in his three-set win over France’s Quentin Halys in the semifinals, and early in the second set against Zverev, the 15-year old turned his left ankle and had to take a medical timeout
 
He had come into the final with a 3-0 record against Zverev, so he was clearly disappointed with the result, but not with his week.
 
“I think everything just piled up on today,” said Kozlov. “I think I should have lost first round. I was down match point; second round I was down a set and 3 0. Kind of all just fell on me today. I guess I'm a little tired. I played a lot of matches and only had one day off. I'm not fully developed yet, but I guess it was all right. I didn't play my best mentally. I'm obviously very happy with the week. I'm just a little tired and want to get home.”
 
What the scrappy Kozlov did show during the week was resiliency. When his ankles are not injured, he is very fast, owns a remarkable two-handed backhand and a developing forehand. He has great court sense and manages his matches like a seasoned pro.
 
After the final, he gave credit to the tall and powerful Zverev for the victory, but he could not bring out his best during the afternoon.
 
“I was definitely a little scared, a little bit of pain,” he said. “But I needed to make points more aggressive because couldn't really run. Both my ankles I rolled, so it was kind of tough.”
 
Kozlov, who hails from of Pembroke Pines, Fla., was the first American boy to reach the singles final at a junior Grand Slam since Bjorn Fratangelo won the French Open boys’ title in 2011. Kozlov trains with both his father, Andrei, and USTA National Coach Nicolas Todero out of the USTA Training Center Headquarters in Boca Raton, Fla.
 
He turns 16 on Feb. 1 and plans on spending most of 2014 playing pro Futures and Challengers, as well as the rest of the junior Grand Slams. If his ankles heal, he is also planning on playing in the Delray Beach ATP tournament qualifying in three weeks.

***

Saturday did crown one singles champion for the U.S. at the Australian Open, with quad singles standout David Wagner defending his title with a 3-6, 7-5, 6-3 victory over South Africa’s Lucas Sithole. In a tight match, the veteran Wagner, 39, proved the more consistent player down the stretch, committing just four unforced errors to 11 for Sithole.

With the victory, Wagner swept the quad singles and doubles title in Melbourne for the second consecutive year. He also won the Australian Open quad singles title in 2011 and has won the quad doubles title in Melbourne Park on five occasions.

“This one was challenging," Wagner said afterward. "I had some really strong competition throughout. I had three-setters, I had match points against me in some rounds. The first set today was a little challenging. I felt like I was off a bit and didn’t feel like I was serving very well, but props to him, he did what he had to do to get that first set under his belt.

“The second set probably could have gone either way a couple of times, but I just tried to stay the course and we had a game plan and we knew that going in. What I think made a big difference in the third set was I had two service games where I was down 0-40 and I came back on both of those games and that was huge. Those were some pretty crucial points.” (USTA staff)

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For more coverage of Americans at the 2014 Australian Open, please also read:

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