Friday, January 9, 2015

Fritz wins all-American Showdown

LOS ANGELES -- In a meeting of two American juniors ranked in the top five in the world, Taylor Fritz defeated Stefan Kozlov 6-4, 6-4 in the quarterfinals of the USA F2 $15,000 to reach his first career semifinal on the senior tour.

The 17-year old Fritz, who is ranked No. 5 in the world for juniors, came back from down a break twice in the first set and eventually won the final four games to take the first set 6-4. Then in the second set, Fritz prevented a 5-2 lead from slipping away by breaking Kozlov on his fourth match point after failing to serve out the match.

Fritz had a match point on Kozlov's serve at 5-2, but Kozlov got the hold and then quickly broke Fritz in the following game to get back on serve. In the final game Kozlov had to save to more match points. Then on the third match point Kozlov came in behind a cross court forehand approach. Fritz lobbed the ball back to Kozlov who shanked the overhead from just behind the service line into the back of the fence.

"In the end, I didn't take the match point," Fritz said. "It came from his error. Maybe that's how it had to happen, because I wasn't doing anything on the other match points and he played a lot of big points really well."

"The lob is my first reaction when someone approaches against me. Stefan likes to get really close to the net on his approaches, so he can just drop it over if you try to mass him. On match point, the lob was just an instinct shot. It wasn't that good or anything."

With the win, Fritz has earned eight ranking points by reaching the semifinals this week, more than doubling the total number of ranking points he has earned in his career since beginning senior tour events 12 months ago. With that, Fritz will crack the top 1000 in the world for the first time in his career and become the 65th active American inside the top 1000.

"I didn't want to come out and try to hit winners off of everything," Fritz said, "because I knew that's what he was ready for. He would have beat me for sure if I did that by just getting balls back and waiting for me to miss. So I wanted to try to establish some consistency, so that I wouldn't get buried in unforced errors."

The semifinals appearance comes on the heels of two grade A titles in Japan and Mexico on the juniors tour to end the 2014 season. It was the first time in his career that Fritz defeated Kozlov after losing the only previous meeting in Kalamazoo last year.

"We played before at Kalamazoo, but I had a really bad ankle there," Fritz said. "I really should have just defaulted the match, so I didn't let that affect my confidence today. I tried to just think of this as our first meeting. But after that meeting in Kalamazoo I did have a sense for what his game is like."

For Kozlov, it was his seventh time reaching a quarterfinal as a senior. The 16-year old is currently ranked No. 466 in the world and will move up a few spots when the new rankings come out on Monday.

"I'm sure all of us want to do better than the other one," Fritz said of the current crop of American teens bursting through in the rankings, "which is extremely healthy for us, because it just pushes us to become better and better. I think its good, because if there was just one person that is above than everyone else, that person doesn't have a marker to keep up with. I like being able to compete with the rest of them and push myself against them."

In the first game, Fritz had a 40-15 lead, but Kozlov came charging back to break in the opening game. Fritz had two chances to get back on serve in the following game, but Kozlov again came back to win the game, taking a 2-0 lead.

"There were some chances in the beginning of the first set that I didn't really take," Fritz said. "I eventually got some breaks and started playing really well towards the end. My touch shots were the best they have ever been and my volleying was better than its ever been before."

Kozlov missed badly on his first four serves of the match, double faulting twice to hand Fritz an unearned 0-30 edge in the first game. However, Kozlov came back with a second serve ace, which helped him get to deuce and eventually hold.

"I kept thinking about the times in the first two games where I had 40-15 on both my serve and then on his and let those games go," Fritz said. "I was thinking that I could have been up by a lot in the first set if I would have capitalized, but I told myself that there is nothing I can do about it anymore and I just have to live in the present and play in the moment."

Fritz fell behind 4-2 in the first set, but then raddled off four games in a row, converting his first set point to take the lead in the quarterfinal. Then in the second set, Fritz took a commanding 4-1 lead, which he held onto despite the final push from Kozlov.

Ponwith was the youngest player left in the draw
In a unique post-game moment, Kozlov and Fritz sat side-by-side in the stands to watch the quarterfinal between two other up-and-coming Americans Mitch Krueger and Nathan Ponwith.

In that match, Krueger came back from down a set to defeat 16-year old Ponwith, 6-7(4), 6-4, 6-1 in just his second career quarterfinal. Ponwith had multiple break points against Krueger to take control of the match both at 3-3 and 4-4 in the second set. However, after not converting on the second set of break chances, Krueger got a break point and converted it right away to send the match to a deciding set, where Ponwith faded quickly.

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