Tiafoe Makes History as Youngest Orange Bowl Boys Champion; Flink Claims Girls Title
by Colette Lewis
, 20 December 2013
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Crowds packed the Frank Veltri Tennis Center in Plantation, Florida for the boys Metropolia Orange Bowl final Sunday, knowing they would see history made. When Francis Tiafoe fired an ace to defeat fellow 15-year-old American Stefan Kozlov 7-6(3), 0-6, 6-3, he became the youngest winner in the history of the boys 18s competition.
The 1998 birth year was mentioned frequently during the week, with No. 13 seed Tiafoe, No. 4 seed Kozlov and No. 6 seed Michael Mmoh
all reaching the quarterfinals. Tiafoe, who had already beaten No. 3 seed Filippo Baldi
of Italy 6-0, 6-3 in the third round, kept his momentum with a 6-4, 6-4 victory over No. 7 seed Roman Safiullin
of Russia in the quarterfinals, and a 4-6, 6-2, 6-2 decision over No. 2 seed Johan Sebastien Tatlot
of France in the semifinals.
For his part, Kozlov continued his domination of world No. 1 and top seed Alexander Zverev, beating the 16-year-old German for the third time this year in the semifinals to set up the first all-American final since Timothy Neilly beat Donald Young in 2004.
Tiafoe, playing in his first ITF Grade A final, got off to a slow start, trailing Kozlov 4-1 and searching for some consistency on his serve and his forehand. He got the break back however, saved two set points serving at 5-6, and never trailed in the tiebreaker, with his forehand and his ability to track down Kozlov's drop shots proving the difference in the 80-minute set.
Kozlov took a bathroom break, and that too was lengthy, with Tiafoe fidgeting in his chair for eight minutes. The delay didn't appear to initially bother Tiafoe, who took a 40-0 lead on serve, but Kozlov won the next five points, and the next five games as well.
"I thought, we're going the distance, why even try," Tiafoe said, deciding to conserve energy on the warm and humid South Florida morning.
After receiving a point penalty for a late return from another trip to the bathroom at the set break, Kozlov was broken to go down 2-0 at the beginning of the final set. That was the first of five breaks, which was a testament to the quality of the returns both players were hitting.
Tiafoe's returns, especially from the backhand side, put pressure on Kozlov, and on one important point, Tiafoe stood three feet inside the baseline, a statement that no doubt contributed to Kozlov's double fault on game point that gave Tiafoe a 4-2 lead. In the next game, Tiafoe finally consolidated his break, unleashing a warp speed forehand early in the game that had the crowd gasping, and another forehand winner and a big serve to close it out.
Kozlov, a deliberate player under any conditions, was moving even more slowly in the final few games. He held serve to force Tiafoe to serve it out, and won the first point of the final game with a perfect backhand pass. But Tiafoe came up with a backhand pass of his own, then a good first serve, and when Kozlov's attempt at a drop shot didn't even reach the net, it was suddenly match point.
"Before serving, I thought I'm just going to hit it as hard as I can down the T, it doesn't matter where it goes," Tiafoe said of his thoughts on match point. "I was feeling good, because his body language was getting really poor, and I thought if I make it, he won't even move for it. I hit it as hard as I can and [it was] probably the best [serve] of the whole match. It was unbelievable."