Friday morning in Los Angeles, two top 5 juniors Taylor Fritz and Stefan Kozlov met in the quarterfinals of the USA Futures 2 at USC, where Fritz won 6-4, 6-4. This is my match recap for that win by Fritz.
I also kept complete stats for that match which can be seen here.
The Fritz Return
The key part to Fritz's win was his ability to win a high percentage of points when returning Kozlov's first serve, while also backing up his own first serve. Fritz won an incredible 48.6% of points when Kozlov made his first serve, while winning 78.9% of points when he made his first serve.
One of the worrying things for Fritz though was that he actually won a higher percentage of points when Kozlov made his first serve than when Kozlov made his second serve. While Kozlov did have one ace on his second serve, the explanation for that isn't that Kozlov's second delivery is better than his first. The issue was Fritz's gameplan on second serves.
He said after the match that he wanted to be patient against Kozlov, which he did an excellent job of throughout much of the match. The times that Fritz chose to be more aggressive was on his second serve returns, particularly in the deuce court. All match, Fritz made it a point to return Kozlov's second serve in the deuce court with his forehand, which ended up playing to Kozlov's advantage.
The six times that Kozlov got his second serve down the tee in the deuce court, he won all six points, because Fritz either tried to force a forehand or had to quickly switch to a backhand grip resulting in a weaker return. Then the one time Kozlov served into Fritz's forehand on a second delivery, it went for an ace to save a break point. Fritz did have moderate success returning the second serves into the body, winning 4-of-9 of those points in the deuce court. However, he had the exact same success rate on first serves down the tee, so the forehand return didn't actually give him any extra advantage.
In the ad court, where Kozlov's Lleyton Hewitt-like second serve is a little less affective and where Fritz was more willing to use his backhand return, Fritz enjoyed much more success. On Kozlov's second serve into the ad court, Fritz won 9-of-18 points not including the four double faults he induced.
Other than his second serve down the tee in the deuce court, Kozlov's best serve on the day was his first serve out wide in the deuce court. After missing badly on his first serve of the match out wide, Kozlov hit his slice serve in 9-of-13 times and won 5-of-9 of those points with an ace and two unreturned serves.
Fritz's serve was working from all angles on the first delivery, but his most reliable serve was his first serve down the tee in the ad court. There he took a little speed off and added some spin to get great placement on that serve all match. He made 12-of-15 first serves down the tee in the ad court and then won nine of those 12 points, while hitting one ace and two unreturned serves.
Neither player came into the net with much frequency in the match, but both players enjoyed plenty of success at the net, picking the right times to come forward. Kozlov won 12-of-17 points at the net and hit three net winners. His only two unforced errors at the net were on missed overheads, including the one on match point. After the match, Fritz said he typically likes to use the lob a lot and especially against Stefan, who likes to get very close to the net when he approaches, and that strategy paid off.
Fritz was nearly perfect at the net producing 11 net winners without a single unforced error. On the 23 times he came into the net, he won the point 19 times. Part of the reason that Kozlov's winner count at the net is lower is because Fritz failed to make Kozlov hit another volley when he did come to net. Nine times, whether it was forced or unforced, Fritz misfired on his passing shots. That's part of the effect that Kozlov has on his opponents by standing so close to the net at times.
After the match, Fritz talked about his game plan going into the quarterfinal saying:
"I didn't want to come out and try to hit winners off of everything, 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."
Fritz did an incredible job of maintaining his consistency while not getting away from his typical aggressive game plan. Whether it be a winner, forced error, or unforced error, Fritz had the last hit of the rally on 84 points, compared to just 54 for Kozlov. Yet he didn't let the unforced errors pile up despite being the more aggressive player on a lot of points. Fritz had 32 winners and just 29 unforced errors, while Kozlov had 12 winners and 34 unforced errors.
Fritz's patience was particularly on display in the backhand-to-backhand rallies, where Kozlov was typically the one who would go for the winner first. Kozlov had one backhand drop shot error, one backhand slice down the line error, and 12 top spin backhand unforced errors, which is typically his most reliable shot. Both players were successful twice in finding winners on the backhand down the line, but neither player hit a single cross court backhand winner in a baseline rally all match.