Kozlov, Kenin complete U.S. sweep of Orange Bowl 18s titles

December 14, 2014 06:34 PM

By Pat Mitsch, USTA.com
– Players travel from all over the world to compete for the Orange Bowl junior championship. This year’s champions didn’t have to come far at all.
Stefan Kozlov and Sofia Kenin, both from nearby Pembroke Pines, Fla., won the Boys’ and Girls’ 18s singles titles at the Metropolia Orange Bowl Tennis Championships Sunday at the Frank Veltri Tennis Center, the first American sweep of the Orange Bowl 18s singles titles since 2004 (Timothy Neilly and Jessica Kirkland).
Kozlov, seeded second, defeated Greece’s Stefanos Tsitsipas, 2-6, 6-3, 6-2, to win his first Orange Bowl singles title in four tries, having fallen in the Boys’ 12s, 14s and 18s finals in previous years. Kozlov, who also appeared in boys’ singles finals this year at both Wimbledon and the Australian Open, outlasted the lanky, talented Greek to avenge his loss to fellow American Francis Tiafoe in last year’s Boys’ 18s title match.
“It meant a lot,” said Kozlov, who will turn 17 on Feb. 1. “Losing in the finals here three times and in two Slam finals this year, I’m just really relieved, to be honest, that I finally won this and hopefully won’t have to come back next year.”
Nonetheless, Kozlov admitted to being surprised by Tsitsipas’ “legit weapons” – a big serve and forehand and one-handed backhand – while dropping a shaky first set but used superior conditioning to wear down Tsitsipas as the match progressed.
“After the third set started, I didn’t have any power,” said Tsitsipas, who lives and trains in Athens. “I played good players out there. I hope next year I’ll do better and go again to the final in this tournament.”
Whereas Kozlov was relieved to win, the 16-year-old Kenin perhaps was surprised. After beating second-seeded CiCi Bellis in the semifinals, Kenin shook off any emotion to take down American qualifier Ingrid Neel in Sunday’s final, 6-3, 6-3.
“It’s just incredible,” Kenin said. “I honestly was not expecting to get to the final. I was just hoping to take one match at a time. I was in the semis, and it was great. I played my best friend, CiCi, and I pulled it through, surprisingly, so it’s been a really great week. I’m so happy.”
Neel, a Rochester, Minn., native who now trains at the IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla., and occasionally hits with coach Nick Bollettieri, said she’ll look back on this week with “only the fondest memories” after coming through qualifying and making a surprise run to the final.
“I had an amazing week here. I never expected to be in the final,” Neel said. “Just with every match, I played pretty well and just thought, ‘How far could I take this?’ Pretty dang far, I guess. Nine matches. This is just great for me.”
Bellis, meanwhile, won the Girls’ 18s double title with Marketa Vondrousova of the Czech Republic, 7-5, 2-6 [10-4], over Slovakia’s Tereza Mihalikova and the Czech Republic’s Miriam Kolodziejova.

The title punctuates a significant week for Bellis, who clinched the year-end No. 1 junior ranking, despite losing to Kenin in Saturday’s singles semifinals.
“Definitely, after I lost, all I could think about was coming in here and trying to do as best as we can and win, so I’m glad that we could today,” Bellis said.
Kozlov, meanwhile, swept the boys’ singles and doubles titles, taking the doubles championship with Michael Mmoh, 6-4, 7-6(5), over Korea’s Yunseong Chung and Seong Chan Hong after squandering a handful of match points and trailing, 5-2, in the tiebreak.

“It definitely was a tense moment, but I always thought we were the much better team. I wasn’t extremely worried,” Mmoh said. “Everything came through in those last few points, and it was a great way to end (Kozlov’s) junior career, especially.”

For complete tournament information, visit orangebowltennis.org.