It will be the oldest vs. the youngest when 14-year-old Stefan Kozlov and 18-year-old Mitchell Krueger meet for the championship of the ITF Grade 1 International Spring Championships Easter Sunday morning at the Home Depot Center.
The 12th-seeded Kozlov, who turned 14 in February, reached his first Grade 1 final on a warm and unusually calm day at the USTA Training Center West, defeating No. 14 seed Luca Corinteli 6-2, 6-3. Kozlov and Corinteli, who both train at the USTA's Boca Raton Center, had split their previous two meetings, but Kozlov was at the top of his unique game in Saturday's semifinal encounter.
"I thought I was executing break points and key points well," said Kozlov, of Pembroke Pines, Fla. "I was returning well, and it was an overall good performance."
Although he has grown recently, Kozlov is still much smaller and less physically imposing than Corinteli, who has a linebacker's physique. The size differential wasn't a factor Saturday however, as Kozlov was able to use his usual array of lobs, drop shots, volleys and spins to frustrate Corinteli.
Another aspect of his game that has improved in the past few months is his serve, Kozlov saying he is now placing it well and serving harder than he had done as recently as last year. And he's also added some velocity to his forehand.
"My forehand's more explosive now. I'm going for it and executing it well," said Kozlov, who is also trying to dial back on the emotional intensity he displays.
"My negative emotion I'm trying to keep back, and I don't want too much positive, because I can't use too much energy on that," Kozlov explained. "At this level, you just can't waste energy on little things like that. I'm not saying you shouldn't say 'c'mon'--I say it a lot--but just not too much."
Whatever works little buddy