First, Francis Tiafoe slammed an ace right down the center line.
Then, he slammed his racket — in joy.
The first slam gave Tiafoe the boys’ 18 title Sunday in the Metropolia Orange Bowl Tennis Championships at Veltri Tennis Center in Plantation.
The second slam sent his racket into retirement.
In the first all-American final since 2004, Tiafoe, from College Park, Md., defeated Stefan Kozlov of Pembroke Pines, 7-6 (7-3), 0-6, 6-3. That result made Tiafoe, at age 15 with his birthday in January, the youngest 18-under champion in the 67-year history of the tournament.
“Yeah, I don’t think the racquet survived,” Tiafoe said sheepishly of his racquet spike. “Actually, I didn’t really know what to do so I slammed it. I’ve never slammed a racquet in excitement before.”
Of his winning service ace, he said, “I told myself I was going to hit it as hard as I can down the middle.”
The simplistic strategy paid off.
Tiafoe travels with his coach to tournaments, and Tiafoe’s parents stay back home in Maryland. Usually, Tiafoe waits a few hours for things to settle down before calling his parents to tell them how he did. This victory, the biggest in Tiafoe’s young career, called for a change in procedure. “This time I called them right after the match,” he said.
The triumph was Tiafoe’s first against Kozlov.
“He’s beaten me four or five times,” Tiafoe said.
Early on, another loss seemed to be in the making for Tiafoe, who was seeded 13th. Kozlov, also 15 and seeded fourth, took an early 4-1 lead. Tiafoe then won three games in a row to put the 80-minute marathon set back on serve and went on to win in the tiebreaker.
The second set was a 6-0 blowout by Kozlov.
In the deciding set, Kozlov was down 3-2, but on service. Then he double-faulted twice, including on the final point, to lose the game. Tiafoe had control of momentum and the match at 4-2. In addition, Kozlov was obviously struggling — exhausted and having a leg problem.
Afterward, Kozlov, who struggled with his serve all day, was obviously and understandably dejected.
“I’ve had a tough week and I’m exhausted,” Kozlov said. “I’ve lost three finals in this tournament — 12s, 14s and now 18s. Making the finals isn’t good enough. Even in the warm-ups when I got here I was exhausted. The next time you see me, I’m going to be a lot stronger, in better condition.
“I have to change some things to make it to the top.”
In the girls’ 18 championship, Russia’s Varvara Flink defeated Serbia’s Ivana Jorovic, 6-1, 2-6, 6-4, in a match that had an odd finish.
Flink was serving for championship point and Jorovic seemingly staved her off by winning the point and sending the game back to deuce. However, Flink complained that the ball had been cut during the point. The umpire examined the ball and confirmed it was cut, and by the rules, the point had to be played over. Jorovic vociferously protested, but lost.
And Flink won the match on the next point.
Did Flink feel bad she won in that manner?
“Not really,” she said. “I know the rule, and it is the rule.”
In 18 doubles, Naiktha Bains of Australia and American Tornado Black defeated the U.S. team of Sofia Kenin and Kaitlyn McCarthy, 6-0, 6-1, for the girls’ title, and Filippo Baldi and Lucas Miedler teamed up to beat Andrey Rubley and Alexander Zverev, 6-3, 6-7 (6-8), 10-8 for the boys’ championship.