02 Apr 2014

Stefan Kozlov blog: Playing without pressure

News Article

Photo: Corinne DubreuilStefan Kozlov (USA)

World Junior No. 2 Stefan Kozlov’s reputation has rocketed in recent months after his successes on the ITF Junior Circuit. Having underlined his potential by becoming one of two 15-year-olds to contest the Orange Bowl final alongside eventual winner Francis Tiafoe last December, the now-16-year-old American followed with a runner-up finish at the 2014 Australian Open Junior Championships. Here he introduces himself to ITF Juniors and reflects on his recent achievements.

I’m an American, but my parents are both Russian. They moved to Macedonia for about two years for work and then we moved over to Pembroke Pines, Florida when I was about one. My Dad has his own tennis academy in Pembroke Pines, so I’ll spend about 40 per cent of my time training with him and then probably 60 per cent with the USTA, about a 40 minute drive away, in Boca Raton.

I'm coached by Nicolas Todero in Boca Raton and then I mix it up by training at my Dad’s place every now and then. It’s really just whatever I’m feeling as to where I go. Nicolas and my Dad will communicate really well and we’re always on the same page, all three of us. It’s worked out really well so far.

I got in to tennis because of my Dad. He used to play to a good level in Russia but then he had to join the army so he couldn’t really go pro. He was pretty good, but came from a tough background. He coaches me when I’m at home and he helps me a lot - we have a good relationship and a good, close bond and hopefully it will keep going like that.

At the Orange Bowl last year, I had a pretty good tournament [ultimately losing in the final to Francis Tiafoe]. [Francis] got really motivated and had a great tournament. If we carry on like that it’s going to be a battle and we’re going to be really close in the future. As with some of the other top juniors, if we keep going at this rate we’re all going to have big results and it’s just going to be about whoever gets the most results that goes furthest.

Even though I was 15, I was one of the favourites going into the Orange Bowl. I’d had a pretty good summer and I thought I was the favourite so I didn’t really go in with the mindset that I was one of the younger guys. I was seeded No. 4 but I just went out there and played, went match by match through the draw and got to the final. I played a good match, and unfortunately lost it 76(3) 06 63, but I didn’t have any pressure on me. I just played tennis.

Australia was slightly different. I didn’t have a good warm up at the Grade 1 in Traralgon, losing to Bradley Mousley 75 63 in the first round. I worked pretty hard after that and I got really confident, spending time working on a lot of things. Maybe it even worked out better that I lost in the first round because I had time to get used to the courts, practised a lot, and got to the Australian Open feeling good and fresh.

I had a couple of tough battles early on [going to three sets against Australia’s Blake Mott and Denmark’s Simon Friis Soendergaard] and it was a bit of a coin-flip in the first two rounds, but then I got into my rhythm, started playing a lot better and moved on.

I was expected to do well – if you’re seeded one or two you’re the favourite going into any tournament – but I didn’t really look at it as if I had to win the tournament. I just played. [Mott], the guy I played in the first round, was the favourite against me. He’s had some unbelievable wins [defeating the likes of Nick Kyrgios, Luke Saville and Jordan Thompson during challenger action at the end of 2013] and he’s ranked around 650 in the world.

He was a good opponent, but I knew that I could go far.

Stefan Kozlov was speaking to ITF Juniors, who put together this blog on his behalf.