With all the talk about the decline of American tennis, particularly on the men’s side, U.S. Tennis Association officials surely are turning cartwheels over the 18s Boys final at the Metropolia Orange Bowl International on Sunday.
Fifteen-year-old Stefan Kozlov of Pembroke Pines will play 15-year-old Francis Tiafoe for the crystal bowl of oranges at the Veltri Tennis Center in Plantation. It is the first All-American boys’ final since 2004, when Tim Neilly beat Donald Young.
“That’s awesome,’’ Kozlov said of facing Tiafoe. “Hashtag ’98 trio [including Michael Mmoh]. Get it started. I’m honestly very excited for him also because he’s a hard worker and he deserves it. So, it’ll be a wonderful match, and I’m just blessed to be in it.
“We play very similar, we’re not as aggressive as they come, but we’re very crafty players. We’re just going to grind and whoever can handle it longer is going to win.”
Kozlov advanced to the final with a 7-6 (7-2), 6-0 semifinal victory over top-seed Alexander Zverev of Germany. Tiafoe, the 13th seed, toppled No. 2 Johan Sebastien Tatlot of France 4-6, 6-2, 6-2.
Kozlov, known for his court smarts, employed a flurry of drop shots to fluster Zverev.
“I’ve never seen anything work like that before,” Kozlov said. “I think that he kind of gave up mentally, and I know him from previous times that if I had a big lead, he wouldn’t fight back.”
The Girls’ 18s final will also be a friendly encounter — so friendly that top seed Varvara Flink gave her opponent, No. 2 Ivana Jorovic, a box of chocolates Saturday afternoon.
Trying to fatten her up, perhaps, before the big match?
“Absolutely,” Flink said, smirking. “That’s the plan.”
Truth is, the two players are friends and doubles partners. Flink, who celebrated her 17th birthday on Friday, brought the chocolates for Jorovic from Russia.
Flink had a routine 6-4, 6-4 semifinal win over Ioana Ducu of Romania. Jorovic had a much tougher time, needing nearly two and a half hours to shake off tenacious unseeded 15-year-old Sofia Kenin of Pembroke Pines 6-2, 7-6 (8-6).
“Everyone thinks that because she’s small she’s not so good, but she’s unbelievable, runs for every ball, great fighter, great future,” Jorovic said of Kenin.
In Girls 16s, fifth seed Charlotte Robillard-Millette of Canada won the final 6-0, 1-6, 6-4 over unseeded Alexis Nelson of St. Paul, Minn. It was the third year in a row a Canadian girl won the 16s.
“I knew that, and I had a little pressure on and I was a bit nervous at the beginning,” said Robillard-Millette, who is from Montreal. “Hopefully next year another Canadian or even I can win it again.”
Robillard-Millette, only 14 but already 5-11, is the daughter of former Canadian Football League player Francois Millette. She lost in the qualifying rounds of the Orange Bowl 14s last year, so Saturday’s win was especially gratifying.
Nelson, playing in the biggest match of her career, rallied to dominate the second set, but fell short in the end.
“Right now I’m really disappointed, but looking back I think I’ll be really proud of the result,” Nelson said. “It’s kind of bittersweet. You lose in three in the final and you start to think about the opportunities you had, some regrets. Overall I’m really happy. I feel like I’ve improved exponentially over the past year.”
In the Boys 16s championship, top-seed Yunseong Chung of South Korea defeated countryman, No. 2 seed Chan-Yeoung Oh 3-6, 6-2, 6-1.