Fifteen-year-old Stefan Kozlov is the youngest player remaining in the Australian Open boys' draw.
© Robert Prezioso/Getty Images
By Matt Cronin, special to USTA.com
MELBOURNE, Australia -- Stefan Kozlov’s doctor tells him that he could end up being a fairly tall player at the age of 18. He’s not quite at that height yet, but the 15-year-old doesn't need to be because he is already one of the best all-around players in the international junior ranks.
“I’m 5-foot-10½ now, and he said I will grow two or three inches more, so maybe I'll get to 6-foot-1. That’s big enough,” said the Macedonia-born Kozlov, who moved to the United States when he was 1 years old.
Kozlov is the youngest player left in the Australian Open boys' quarterfinals, and while his game still needs work, it is still very impressive, given his age.
USTA Player Development chief Patrick McEnroe likes what he sees.
“He has great court sense, an excellent backhand, a good tennis IQ," McEnroe said. "He volleys well, and it’s a matter of getting his forehand bigger and becoming fitter.”
Kozlov, who is based at the USTA National Training Center Headquarters in Boca Raton, Fla., is coached by USTA National Coach Nicolas Todero and also works with his father, Andrei. He played a ton of matches in 2013 and went hard in every one of the them.
He reached the quarterfinals of junior Wimbledon, where he ended up cramping in a three-set loss to British Davis Cupper Kyle Edmund. The next week, he received a wild card into the ATP event in Newport, where he nearly knocked off touring pro Michal Przysiezny.
Kozlov then returned to the junior ranks and raced to the final of the International Hardcourt Championships, the quarters of the Eddie Herr International and the final of the Orange Bowl, where he lost a tough three-setter to countryman Francis Tiafoe. He is now the world’s fourth-ranked junior.
“I thought I had a really, really good year, and I thought I could have won a lot of the matches I lost if I didn't get into certain positions,” said Kozlov of his 2013 campaign. “I did a good amount of fitness with the USTA and with my dad privately. I know I needed to improve a lot in fitness, so I did a good amount, and I am still improving.”
There are elements of his game that Kozlov is pleased with, but other parts he knows he can improve. One of those is how to quell his jitters, which he thinks may have contributed to his cramping last season. He has started to work with Dr. Larry Lauer, the mental skills specialist for USTA Player Development.
“I had a lot of nerves,” Kozlov said. “The doctor tells me to try to think about something else, think about a match for 15 minutes before it, and then forget about it. I used to get ahead of myself, up a set and break, and think what I would do if I won. Then I could lose focus.”
Kozlov credits Todero with helping refine his game and teaching him to see the court better. Todero travels with Kozlov and another U.S. junior, Michael Mmoh, who is Kozlov’s doubles partner. Both were born in 1998, as was Tiafoe. It is a talented trio.
“Stefan’s fitness is key, and it will be big for him the next couple years because he’s not as physical as Mo or Tiafoe are yet,“ McEnroe said. “For us, it’s good if they push each other the next three to 10 years.”
At this Australian Open, Kozlov beat Aussie Blake Mott in a long three-setter, won another three-set match against Denmark's Simon Soendergaard and then bested Russian Boris Pokotilov, 6-1, 6-2, on Wednesday.
“The first two rounds [were] not so good, but today I played pretty well,” said Kozlov.
On Thursday, the second-seeded Kozlov will meet 10th seed Andrey Rublev of Russia for a spot in the semis.
After the tournament, Kozlov will head back to Florida and try to qualify for the ATP tournament in Delray Beach, play some Futures and Challengers and also more junior events.
He has some clear goals in 2014: “Top of ITF rankings and Top 500 ATP."
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