08 Apr 2014

Stefan Kozlov blog: Sparring with the pros

News Article

Photo: Susan MullaneStefan Kozlov (USA)

Stefan Kozlov’s reputation has rocketed in recent months after his successes on the ITF Junior Circuit, finishing a runner-up in the 2013 Orange Bowl final and at the 2014 Australian Open Junior Championships aged just 15. He has since gone on to make qualifying appearances at ATP events in Delray Beach and Indian Wells, even enjoying the chance to practice with Rafael Nadal. In his second blog for ITF Juniors, Kozlov looks back on hitting with the pros and the importance of reaching his first Junior Grand Slam final.

Having got to a Junior Grand Slam final definitely helps me now. I’m pretty happy with achieving that. It was a goal. But I don’t really think about it too much now I’ve done it. I’m just trying to keep working. I think I’d be the same right now, doing the same things, even if I didn’t get to the final in Australia.

[Alexander] Zverev played a great match in the final in Melbourne. He played exceptionally well and I didn’t play at my best, losing 63 60. Looking back, I don’t think I would do anything different. Maybe just play a little smarter, unroll my ankles - but that’s got nothing to do with it. He played tremendous. I wasn’t playing the right way I guess and I just made a couple more errors than him.

I don’t dwell on defeats, I look ahead. I beat him 76(2) 60 at the Orange Bowl and he moved on from it, so the score in your last match doesn’t mean anything the next time you play. Now I know what I’ll need to do to win next time.

Soon after Australia, I won a pre-qualifying tournament in the US to get a wildcard into qualifying at Delray Beach. That event was a lot of fun. It was my second ATP event after Newport last year. I played Sekou Bangoura in qualifying and, while he’s a pretty good player, I think our levels are pretty close so I didn’t feel like I was going into the match as a huge underdog. It was a pretty even match – I lost 63 in the third.

I also got a wildcard into qualifying at Indian Wells and I went there early and had a good week of preparation. It’s a great tournament, with an unbelievable atmosphere. When it came to my match I just went out there and played and I got close, losing 63 64 to world No. 176 Sam Groth.

The best thing about my time at Indian Wells was that I got there four days before the tournament and had the chance to practise with a lot of pros – mostly from the Top 50 through to Top 100, but also with [Rafael] Nadal in the days before the final.

I’ve heard people talking about his ball, but I didn’t realise it would be quite like it was. If it lands near the baseline, I had to jump five feet back and really spin it short. It was really physical and one of the toughest hits I’ve ever had in my life.

Practicing with the other pros was good too. I now realise what the difference is between them and the Top 10. I learnt a good amount about how they practice and what I need to do to match them.

As for other pros, I’ve hit with [Juan Martin] del Potro a couple of times and we’ve had some really good practices. I’ve also hit with [Roger] Federer but that was more just a warm-up.

When you play against really good players, you can’t get away with not doing the right things. Even if you’re hitting down the middle with someone like del Potro, you have to do the right thing on every single shot.

You get a little bit tired mentally after 100 balls down the middle, but you’ve got to carry on doing the same thing and try to put the ball back with pace every time.

Each time I have the chance to play a top pro I learn a lot. It’s such a good experience.

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

Click the following link to read Stefan's first blog for ITF Juniors.