Stefan Kozlov made history on the pro tennis circuit this year.
The 16-year-old from Pembroke Pines is ranked No.464, the youngest American to crack the Top 500 since Michael Chang in 1989. He was the youngest player ever to compete in the Valencia Open in Spain. He reached the final of the ATP Challenger in Sacramento by beating four higher-ranked players, becoming the third-youngest American to get to a final since Andre Agassi and Chang.
But when Kozlov looked back on his junior career, there was one title that eluded him. He intends to fix that. He has reached the final of the Orange Bowl International three times, including last year in the Boys 18s, but has never won it. That void is motivating him this week as he heads into the quarterfinals.
“I just felt like I came a little bit short last year and I felt really disappointed after the match, like I had it and it slipped out of my hands,’’ Kozlov, the No.2 seed, said Thursday after beating Emil Reinberg 6-2, 6-2.
“It’s my home tournament. I’ve lost in the finals three times, so it would mean a lot to win it.’’
His father, Andrei, who runs the Kozlov Tennis Academy, is proud of his son for returning to the junior ranks to battle for the Orange Bowl championship.
“Some kids once they go pro they don’t want to come back and play juniors again, but Stefan is only 16, so young, so why not come back and try to win something that means so much to him?’’ Andrei Kozlov said. “Roger Federer was 18 when he won Orange Bowl. It’s OK to come back and play for junior titles when you are a teenager. Stefan has been traveling all over as a pro, and I don’t want him to get burned out, so this home tournament is good for him.’’
Kozlov said the 25-plus pro matches he has played have helped immensely.
“I’ve improved everything,’’ he said. “... I’m in better shape. I feel more confident.’’
Among the other boys who advanced Thursday were American Michael Mmoh, the No.5 seed; No.9 seed Alex Ryakov of Coral Springs; and 6-10 Reilly Opelka.
On the girls side, No.2 Cici Bellis reached the quarters after getting past American Maria Shishkina 7-6 (9-7), 6-1. If Bellis advances to the semis, she will finish the year No.1 in the world.
“She started out really strong and I started a little slow,’’ Bellis said. “When I came back, I started to play better.’’
The tournament continues through Sunday at the Frank Ventri Tennis Center in Plantation.
Lynn University’s Kirstie Schults was named a third-team All-South Region selection by the National Soccer Coaches Association of America. Schults led the Fighting Knights in goals and scoring in her final season.