Week 2 Report: Americans shine Down Under

January 27, 2014 02:36 PM
By Nicholas J. Walz, USTA.com
A number of Americans made strong runs during the second week of the 2014 Australian Open, with 39-year-old Wheelchair Tennis ace David Wagner taking home the title and 15-year-old junior Stefan Kozlov establishing himself as a player to watch in the years to come.
Here’s all that happened for the Stars and Stripes to close out the first major of the season:
Wagner Wheelin’
There was once a time when Wagner, the top quad Wheelchair Tennis player on earth, couldn’t solve the Southern hemisphere. From 2008 to 2010, he finished second to rival Peter Norfolk of Great Britain, before finally besting the seven-time Grand Slam tournament singles champion at the 2011 Australian Open.
Since that day, it’s been all Wagner in the quad game. The California product finished each of the last three years with the world’s No. 1 ranking, collecting four Slam titles in both singles and doubles and Paralympic Games gold in 2012 along the way. One of Wagner’s few setbacks came last year at the 2013 US Open, in a three-set final with South Africa’s Lucas Sithole, who became the first African man to claim a US Open singles event of any kind by winning, 3-6, 6-4, 6-4.
Sithole was there once more in Oz, looking to take a second hard-court crown from Wagner in a five-month span when the two faced off in a second consecutive Slam final.
And at the outset, it appeared Wagner would be in for more disappointment, dropping the first set as Sithole zoomed between the lines and ratcheted unreturnable forehands. Wagner would rally to take a tight second stanza, 7-5, as the unforced errors from Sithole aggressive play climbed. Steady, Wagner smoked three aces in the final set and broke Sithole twice to take the match, 3-6, 7-5, 6-3.
Combined with a quad doubles victory with Great Britain’s Andrew Lapthorne, Wagner also earned the distinction of being the first quad player to win both titles in consecutive years in Melbourne.
“Koz” for Optimism
Kozlov, the pride of Pembroke Pines, Fla., who trains at the USTA Player Development Headquarters in nearby Boca Raton, played up to his billing as the tournament’s No. 2 seed by reaching the first Grand Slam singles final of his burgeoning tennis career.
The 15-year-old fought through a number of tough matches to reach the final, dispatching 10th-seeded Andrey Rublev of Russia and No. 7 Quentin Halys of France, a former Les Petits As champion, in the quarters and semis, respectively. Troubled by two sprained ankles, Kozlov fell to top seed Alexander Zverev of Germany in the final, but he came away from Melbourne with a number of positives. With his showing Down Under, Kozlov became the first American boy to reach the singles final at a junior Grand Slam since Bjorn Fratangelo won the Roland Garros boys’ title in 2011, and he is projected to ascend to a career-best No. 2 in the ITF world junior rankings based on his performance.
“This is an exciting and well-deserved achievement for Stefan,” said Patrick McEnroe, General Manager of USTA Player Development. “We are incredibly proud and are happy for him, his family and the team in Boca.”
Best of the Rest
  • In the Australian Open girls’ singles draw, 16-year-old Olivia Hauger, of Tulsa, Okla., reached the quarterfinals, upending No. 1 seed Varvara Flink, of Russia, in the second round.
  • On the strength of a huge upset victory over the Bryan brothers in Melbourne’s first week, 32-year-old Minnesota native Eric Butorac and South Africa’s Raven Klaasen made their first Grand Slam men’s doubles final in their first Slam together as a team. For Butorac, an 11-year pro, it was his first major final appearance. The unseeded duo also defeated former US Open champions Patrick Rafter and Lleyton Hewitt and the decorated team of Daniel Nestor and Nenad Zimonjic in their five wins Down Under.
  • New York-born Scott Lipsky fell just short in his quest for a second -career Grand Slam tournament championship in mixed doubles, losing in the semis with partner Jie Zheng of China to eventual champions Nestor and Kristina Mladenovic. Lipsky owns a Roland Garros trophy from when he teamed up with Australian Casey Dellacqua in 2011.