The first No. 1 seed of the tournament fell today in the boys 16s, with 13-year-old qualifier Connor Hance defeating top seed Ruadhan De Bruges of Australia 4-6, 6-2, 6-3.
Hance, the reigning USTA Clay Court 12s champion, is most definitely a local, training with his parents at the South Bay Tennis Center in Torrance. He also had a promising career as a child actor, with his most famous role as the 5-year-old son of Andre Agassi and Steffi Graf, who competed against Taylor Dent in a Genworth Financial commercial.
Hance has since moved his focus to tennis, and although he has been a top player in his age group for several years, he admits to some surprise at his performance in the 16s this week.
It was the 16-year-old De Brugues who seemed to tire in the third set however, and in the final game, with Hance serving to close it out, De Brugues made the type of errors that indicate fatigue.
“I started to play more aggressive and drive the ball more,” said Hance, of what he changed after dropping the first set. “And I started getting my first serve in. That was the difference.” -Zootennis
So he is the little boy that played the role of Agassi's & Graf's son in the commercial below. So adorable .
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."
Match summary of the final between Kozlov & Krueger
Mitchell Kreuger was in a difficult position in the final of the International Spring Championships, played at the Home Depot Center on an unseasonably warm Easter morning.
Not only was the 18-year-old from Aledo, Texas the top seed, he was facing 14-year-old prodigy Stefan Kozlov, who specializes in forcing his older and stronger opponents in uncomfortable places on the tennis court.
Krueger survived, defeating the 12th-seeded Kozlov 6-3, 6-4 in just under two hours, but he was effusive in his praise of the young Floridian.
"The way he plays is really unique, really different," said Krueger, who had never played Kozlov before, and had only hit with him once previously. "I think he makes you play a lot slower than you would want to. He gets you into the trap of doing what he wants you to do and if you bite, you're right where he wants you."
Krueger found out quickly what a difficult match it would be, when he was forced to save four break points in the first game.
Kozlov showed no sign of nerves--he said after the match that he "just came out and played my game, and if I lost, I lost"--enabling him to hit his usual array of lobs, touch volleys, slices and angles. He had plenty of chances to break Krueger, but didn't capitalize, with the only break of the first set coming with Kozlov serving at 3-4.
Kozlov saved several break points in that game, but was adamant that the last one should have been his ad, not Krueger's. Krueger had hit a backhand down the line winner that the linesman and the chair ruled good, but Kozlov was certain it was wide, resulting in a lengthy discussion with the chair about the call. To compound his frustration, Kozlov was on the wrong end of a net cord on the next point, giving Krueger the chance to serve out the set, which he did with a love game.
"I got lucky to win the first set, I think," Krueger said. "He was playing better than me, and I just played one good return game and that's all it took. The second set he was up pretty much the whole set."
Kozlov got his first break of Krueger in the second game, taking a 2-0 lead, but Krueger got it back in the next game, and saved break points to make it 3-3. Serving at 4-4, Kozlov made twp errors, a very rare occurrence, netting a forehand and missing a forehand volley. With two Krueger winners sandwiched around those errors, the Texan had his break, and would serve for the match.
When Krueger fell behind 15-40 after two Kozlov winners, it looked as if the match would enter its third hour, but Krueger's serve saved him. A good first serve and an ace made it deuce, but Kozlov got break point number three when Krueger netted a forehand. Krueger's overhead, solid all morning despite a cloudless sky, saved that break point, which would be the last one Kozlov would have.
But the drama was far from over.
Krueger earned a match point with another overhead winner, but double faulted, one of the rare times he didn't get his first serve in during the six-deuce game. He made up for it with an ace, to earn match point number two, but left a Kozlov passing shot, which he had a play on, only to watch as it fell on the baseline.
Match point number three and went on a backhand wide, and after a kind net cord on a drop volley gave Krueger match point number four, that too was saved by Kozlov with forehand winner.
During these tense points, Krueger was calm, but Kozlov was getting increasingly agitated by the service line calls.
"I'm going to say I got unlucky a little bit, but the calls were just getting to me," said Kozlov. "The call, they were first serves, but they were long. But whatever, whatever."
After Kozlov hit a backhand volley long, Krueger had his fifth match point, which he converted with yet another overhead winner.
"It was so nerve-wracking," Krueger said. "But I hit some big serves when I really needed it. I hadn't really served that big throughout the whole match, but I felt like going for it. Thank god it worked out."
Kozlov regretted not converting his chances, but will go into his first round match at the Easter Bowl Tuesday with a lot of confidence, given his performance this week.
"I thought I played well," said Kozlov, who will be the youngest boy in the top 100 when the new ITF rankings are released on Tuesday. "I'm a little bit physically tired, but I fought. It was a good week anyway."
Krueger believes Kozlov has the skills to equal the junior accomplishments of another American prodigy.
"He definitely makes you think," Krueger said. "He's got incredible potential--I don't that I've ever seen a player like this, maybe Donald Young--and I think he has a chance to maybe do what Donald did. If he keeps going, he'll do very well. I don't know how to describe his game. A lot of slices, drop shots, lobs, just a lot of kind of nothing balls that make you create a lot. He doesn't miss much and can pull the trigger all of a sudden. I think I did well just to hang in there as well as I could." -zootennis
"I don't know how to describe his game. A lot of slices, drop shots, lobs, just a lot of kind of nothing balls that make you create a lot. He doesn't miss much and can pull the trigger all of a sudden. I think I did well just to hang in there as well as I could."
I like this part because it reinforces what I said This might as well be describing how Tomic plays.
18's: Kozlov through to the 3rd round, Mmoh fell to Madregallejo
16's: Wiersholm withdrew (ankle injury), Tiafoe fell to fellow JTCC mate Jordi Arconada, Nava also lost.
14's: Ponwith and Blumberg into the quarterfinal, Connor Hance lost in 1/16.
Rhyne Williams & Jared Donaldson