Stefan Kozlov is only 18 years old, but says it feels like he has been playing tennis forever. So, winning his first ATP Challenger title on Sunday in Columbus, Ohio, was especially gratifying. He defeated fellow American Tennys Sandgren 6-1, 2-6, 6-2.
With the victory, he earned a $10,800 paycheck and moved up to a career-high No. 116 in the world Rankings.
“It’s still sinking in,” Kozlov said by phone Monday. “I still feel like I’m ranked 150, but when I look at the rankings, I see my name next to 116. Hopefully, I can use this momentum to keep pushing ahead and break into the Top 100 and then Top 50.”
Kozlov is 31-17 this season on the Challenger circuit, won a title and had two runner-up finishes. He is 3-2 on the ATP Tour, and reached a quarterfinal in a grass tournament. He says the recent success is due to years of experience, maturation and also the input of new coach Stanford Boster, a South African who started working with Kozlov in Boca Raton six months ago.
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“The USTA thought it would be good for me to work with him, and it’s been great so far,” Kozlov said. “We clicked right away, and he cares a lot and has good advice. I’m seeing the court better, moving better. He coached Andy Roddick and Mardy Fish when they were younger, so I can learn a lot from him.”
Moving up in the ranking isn’t the only motivation for Kozlov as he prepares for the 2017 season. The ATP two weeks ago announced the launch of the NextGen ATP Finals, a year-end tournament in Milan, Italy, for the Top 7 players in the world who are 21-under. An eighth spot will go to a wild card.
“I think it’s a wonderful idea,” Kozlov said of the new event. “There are so many good up and coming players, and it’s motivating for all of us because we want to get to that tournament.”
For now, he is preparing for the Australian Open.