Hibi, Kozlov Claim ITF Grade 1 Titles at International Spring Championships; DeVine, Shibahara Win 16s Division
by Colette Lewis
, 12 April 2013
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Mayo Hibi and Stefan Kozlov survived tough opening round matches at the ITF Grade 1 International Spring Championships in Carson, Calif. last week, using those wins as springboards for their first Grade 1 titles.
Kozlov, the No. 2 seed and the 2012 ISC finalist
, lost the first set he played in the tournament, to wild card Ernesto Escobedo
, the only player in the draw with a Top 1000 ATP ranking. But Kozlov recovered for a 4-6, 6-4, 6-3 victory and moved through the draw during the rain-free week, meeting longtime junior rival Henrik Wiersholm
in Sunday's final.
The unseeded Wiersholm had put together impressive back-to-back wins over top seed Noah Rubin in the quarterfinals and No. 4 seed Naoki Nakagawa of Japan in the semifinals. But in the final, the Kalamazoo 16s champion couldn't break through against Kozlov, dropping a 6-2, 6-3 decision to make his head-to-head record with Kozlov 0-8.
"I thought he would come out here and just fire out balls, because he hasn't beaten me," said Kozlov, 15. "He played a little different than I thought he would play. I guess he had a lot more pressure than me today. I had a lot of pressure on me too, but I'm getting better at loosening it away."
Kozlov, who trains with Wiersholm at the USTA's Boca Raton National Center, never trailed in the final, getting a break in the fourth game of the first set. Wiersholm didn't serve with the same effectiveness as he did in his previous victories, and Kozlov made him pay by moving in and hitting return winners on Wiersholm's second serve.
Wiersholm fell behind 3-0 in the second set, but got back on serve, only to be broken in the next game to give Kozlov a 4-2 lead. Kozlov saved a break point to make it 5-2, and after Wiersholm held, Kozlov earned three match points. He botched the first, undecided on what to do with a mid-court volley, but on his second match point, Kozlov hit a drop shot winner for the championship.
The friendship between the two players was evident throughout the match, particularly when they reassured each other on close line calls. But that respect didn't help Wiersholm, who admitted his losing streak to Kozlov was starting to get to him.