A Conversation With Stefan Kozlov

Kozlov and good friend Noah Rubin pose with the American flag after the Wimbledon junior final. (PHOTO CREDIT: Jan Kruger/Getty Images)

Kozlov and good friend Noah Rubin pose with the American flag after the Wimbledon junior final. (PHOTO CREDIT: Jan Kruger/Getty Images)

It’s no secret, American tennis(especially on the men’s side) has struggled mightily over the last ten years. So, naturally, everybody is looking for the next big American star. A name that has been talked about heavily is Stefan Kozlov, a 16 year old from Pembroke Pines, Florida. The American lost a tight three setter to big serving Sam Groth 6-3 6-7(5) 4-6 in the first round of qualifying at the Citi Open.

Born in Macedonia, Kozlov lived overseas until the age of one, when his family made the move to the United States. His game is a change of pace for American tennis fans. He doesn’t possess an enormously powerful serve, and although his forehand is a very good shot, but he is very solid in all aspects of the game. His biggest strength may well be his two handed backhand, which he can take very early. Kozlov recently reached the final of the Wimbledon Junior champaionship, losing out to good friend Noah Rubin in three sets. The Tennis Nerds(Joey Hanf) had a chance to sit down and talk with Stefan about a wide range of tennis subjects.

The Tennis Nerds: So you lost a tough three setter to Groth on Saturday, and you also lost a close three setter to Michael Pryzniezny last year in Newport. How much different is the level of play on the ATP tour?

Stefan Kozlov: I think it’s more about maintaining a high level. Whenever I get an opportunity to play in these tournaments my level rises so much. I think that I’m there with these guys to be honest. I should have beat Groth, and I think I maybe even should have qualified. Once you put yourself in that spot, you never know what can happen. My goal is to train hard and put myself in more positions like that

The Tennis Nerds: It seems like you’ve started to get a little more emotional on the court recently. Are you making a conscious effort to fire yourself up?

Kozlov: Recently I’ve been really focused, trying to win more matches. At this Wimbledon I put an emphasis on playing well and going deep in the tournament. I’ve gotta keep moving forward because this is my last year of Junior slams. Every match gets more and more important. I’ve always been emotional, it just depends what match I’m playing. Ever since I was a little kid I’ve been an emotional guy. I feel like especially at tournaments like here it helps me a lot, I can get the crowd involved.

The Tennis Nerds: You, Francis(Tiafoe), and Michael(Mmoh) have been playing together for a very long time now. What’s it like to compete alongside two friends as you try to make your mark on the ATP World Tour? How much do you guys push each other.

Kozlov: I think it’s great that it happened. Every one of us wants to do better than the other. It’s really just a natural habit; we want to do better than each other. It’s been a lot of fun.

The Tennis Nerds: Last year you got the quarters of Wimbledon(Juniors) and this year you reached the final. How much do you like the grass?

Kozlov: I’m really comfortable on grass. I think it’s one of my best surfaces. Actually, I think it is my best surface. I’ve always felt comfortable on it. There’s not too many weeks on grass for me, only two, so hopefully I’ll be able to play more(grass court tournaments).

The Tennis Nerds: You and Jared(Donaldson) recieved at wild card to play doubles in the main draw, and you drew the Bryan Brothers. How excited are you about that?

Kozlov: The first day I found out I was really excited. Now it’s kinda sunk it a little bit, and it’s still pretty surreal. I’m just excited to play. I’m not really happy(about drawing the Bryans) because I know it’s going to be a tough match, but I honestly think we can win. So that’s how confident I am in myself and Jared. If we play well, you knew never know.

The Tennis Nerds: I assume with this being your last in junior slams that you won’t be going to college?

Kozlov: No, I’ve already turned pro.

The Tennis Nerds: With your ranking in the 800’s…..

Kozlov: I haven’t really played too many pro events yet, so I think I’m much higher than my ranking shows.

The Tennis Nerds: Yeah you’re still playing some juniors. What’s your plan for the future, what events are you going to be playing?

Kozlov: I’m going to play the US Open(Juniors), Kalamazoo–hopefully I’ll do well in Kalamazoo so I can get a Wild Card into the Open. But yeah I’m trying to play more ATP events, hopefully get into some qualifying draws, and then some challengers and futures.

The Tennis Nerds: The state of American men’s tennis has been discussed a lot obviously, and everybody wants to know who is next. How much pressure do you feel being perhaps the most talked about name for the future?

Kozlov: I feel zero pressure. We don’t have that many top Americans, but I don’t compare myself to them. I compare myself to the best in the world. I think the fact that we don’t have a top American motivates everyone, but I don’t really feel pressure because of it you know what I mean?

The Tennis Nerds: Yeah I understand what you’re saying.

Kozlov: It’s kinda weird, I just try to focus on what I need to do to become number one in the world. I don’t really look at the top 100 to see how many guys we(United States) have there. I know we’re going to get better and better, and we’ll have more guys there soon.

The Tennis Nerds: What part of your game have you worked on the most over the last six months? It looks like you’re fitness is improving.

Kozlov: Yeah, me and my dad have tried to get after that. Moving forward, tennis is a very physical sport, and with my height and size matches are going to be really physical. So I’ve definitely worked on my fitness, but others things as well.

The Tennis Nerds: About that, it seems like you’ve grown a little bit. How tall are you?

Kozlov: 6 feet

The Tennis Nerds: Are you still growing?

Kozlov: Yeah I think I’m definitely still growing. I’m trying to grow everyday, you know.{laughing}My dad is helping me out, giving me a lot of vitamins, and we’ve been focusing on stretching.

The Tennis Nerds: The typical American game these days usually involves a big serve and a big forehand. You play much more of an all court game. How did that come about?

Kozlov: You’re going to have to ask my dad that{laughing}. I had no control over that to be honest. Whatever my dad taught me, I listened. So yeah, you’ll have to ask him.

The Tennis Nerds: About your dad, I know he coached you for most of your life. How much a balance do you have right now between your dad and the USTA?

Kozlov: I’ve been with Gully(Tom Gullickson–USTA) the last two weeks. My full time coach is Nicolas Todero, but his wife is having a kid so he hasn’t been traveling. I would say it’s a 70/30 ratio. 70 percent with the USTA, and 30 percent with my dad. I think me and my dad have a really good connection, so everything is working well so far.

The Tennis Nerds: Thanks Stefan.

Kozlov: My pleasure.

 

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The Tennis Nerds as Credentialed Media–Heading East for US Open Series

This is something I’ve been waiting to share for months now. I wasn’t able to make it official because so many things had to happen in order to have this opportunity. But the wait is no longer, and I, Joey Hanf, managing editor and founder of tennisnerds.com, am extremely excited to announce that The Tennis Nerds has been approved to cover the BB&T Atlanta Open as credentialed media.

The opening tournament for the US Open Series, Atlanta is held from July 19-27th, and the 2014 field is the strongest it has had in years. Top Americans John Isner, Sam Querrey and company are joined by high flying Frenchman Gael Monfils and Richard Gasquet. Other notable players include Lleyton Hewitt, Kevin Anderson, and Radek Stepanek. Full player list here.

I have the great opportunity to cover the tournament for 5 days, from the 21-25th. I’ve been to professional tournaments before, but never as credentialed media. This allows me access into press conferences and the media room, which will be of great help in my quest to create the most interesting and compelling content for you, the reader. I’ll do my best to secure as many interviews as I can, and hopefully I’ll get the chance to talk to many young Americans.

Also, although I cannot 100% guarantee it, I am also planning on covering the Citi Open in Washington DC, a 500 event held the following week. A couple things need to be confirmed before I can make that official.

What does this mean? Well, first off, I’ll be updating this site daily, if not multiple times per day. I want to get as much work done as possible while still enjoying the tennis and the city. Second, I’m going to do my best as an amateur photographer to secure a great photo gallery for the site.

A lot of thanks are in order for making this trip happen. First off, Ricky Dimon of The Grandstand has been a huge help in the entire process, and none of this would be possible without him. I will also be writing for The Grandstand during my travels, and I often contribute to the site, so I highly suggest you guys check it out. Next, my parents, who are not only helping me pay for college(entering my junior year), but also supporting me in this trip across the country. I’ll be driving with my dad from California to Atlanta, and then I’ll be on my own up the East Coast before I settle it at my house in Ithaca, New York. I go to Ithaca College, and obvious shout-out is in order for the Bombers, and our amazing journalism program.

Finally, I owe most of this to all of you who read and comment on my articles, and interact with me on twitter.(If you don’t follow me yet, you should) Without the awesome support from my readers none of this would be possible. It’s always been a goal of mine to cover a tournament as media, but it makes it even more special that I’ll be doing so for my own website.

So, with this exciting news, I pose a challenge for you guys. What are interested in reading? Who do you want to hear from? I will do my best to cover as much as I can, and would love if you guys could comment any suggestions for content.

Question and Answer: Jarmere Jenkins

Jarmere

Jarmere Jenkins is one of the rising stars of American tennis. He is young, athletic, and talented enough to certainly make a big impact on the ATP tour in the future. Jarmere recently graduated from the University of Virginia and started his pro career this summer. He made the finals of a futures event in Florida and then won the futures tourney in Rochester. Most recently, he played in the US Open, participating in Men’s qualies, men’s doubles, and mixed doubles.  Joey and I came up with some questions for Jarmere about his time in college, US Open experience, and future as a pro player. Here is our first Q&A with Jarmere Jenkins.

Q: So it’s you’re first year as a full-time professional. What are the biggest adjustments and challenges you’ve faced?

A: Just being able to maintain consistency. In my diet, mentality, fitness. There’s little time to slack off… Someone else is always working and waiting for an opportunity. The challenges are pretty similar. Tennis is a pretty individualized sport and you constantly battle yourself within. Push yourself to new limits all the time.

Q: You were obviously extremely successful at Virginia. What do you think you’re biggest achievement in college was and why?

A: My biggest achievement in college was my progress and maturity as a person throughout my four years there. It’s hard to put in words how much I grew but it’s something that I look back on now and say “wow, i’ve come a very long way”. All of my accolades on the court fall just short of me growing up in Charlottesville.

Q: When you’re playing college matches you have 8+ other guys there cheering you on. How hard has it been to start playing solely for yourself?

A: As I stated earlier, tennis is an individualized sport regardless. Your accountability never leaves you for one second, even in college. You just have people that share this with you in college. On one hand yes I am solely playing for myself…on the other I am always representing UVA, family, and friends.

Q: How was you’re experience at the US Open? Anything stand out?

A: It was definitely a learning experience. Before this US Open, I was 0-6 in singles there. So it definitely felt pretty good to get some wins, build some confidence, and just sorta make myself known.

Q: There has been much talk about the state of American Men’s tennis. What are your thoughts?

A: American tennis is growing a lot faster than people think. People are too concerned with results and statistics that they miss out on the more important things. US players definitely deserve more support, especially in the media. It’s not easy what we are trying to accomplish but we are all committed and will be on top sooner than later.

Q: What specific parts of your game are you working to improve? What do you think your biggest strength is on the tennis court?

A: Fitness is a key issue for me now. My biggest strength is my speed. Whether its using my speed to create offense or getting out of defensive positions.

Q:You won your first Futures title just a couple months ago and also reached the final of another. How has that success affected your game, confidence wise?

A: Futures are the lowest level pro events there are. Of course I feel good about winning them but progress is what I am most concerned about now. It gives me confidence that I am on the right track.

Q: Random one here. Of all the events you’ve traveled to this year, which was your favorite and why?

Citi Open in D.C is at the top of my list. With UVA being so close the fan support is just hard to beat. Feels like a home match.