Stefan Kozlov saves six match points to win fourth career ITF singles title

Stefan Kozlov continued his remarkable year with his fourth career ITF singles title. The American lifted the trophy in Little Rock, Arkansas after a strenuous final encounter.

Kozlov Struggles Against Fellow American

Stefan Kozlov took the court at the Rebsamen Tennis Center for the final round of the Baptist Health Bolo Bash. The American was set to face his fourth compatriot of the tournament, Eric Quigley. The players were set to meet for the second time, with their first meeting coming in the qualifying of the Savannah Challenger in 2014.

The first set saw the pair exchange breaks in the early proceedings, but the set remained on serve for the remainder of the opening set to force a tiebreaker. Quigley snatched the first set in just under an hour on his second time of asking; putting him within a set of his second career ITF singles trophy. The 27-year-old kept his title hopes intact as he quickly raced to a 3-1 second set lead over the teenager. Kozlov seemed to be struggling physicially and a call for the trainer was deemed as the turning point.

Stefan Kozlov in Australia. Photo: Quinn Rooney/Getty Images
Stefan Kozlov in Australia. Photo: Quinn Rooney/Getty Images

18-year-old Battles Back From Brink Of Defeat

After a medical time-out for  Stefan Kozlov’s shoulder and neck, the youngster relentlessly fought back to reel off his fifth straight game to level the championship at a set apiece. The 45 minute set pushed the match near to the two hour mark and the players’ physicality would need to stay sharp in the decisive set.

The third set swayed into the teenager’s favor early on. The 2014 junior Wimbledon finalist grabbed a three-love initiative with a double-break cushion. But Quigley wasted zero time to earn three straight games of his own. Stefan Kozlov refused to let his early lead slip as he broke for 4-3 and served to put himself within a game of the title. Kozlov successfully held to 15 to hold a 5-3 advantage.

Stefan Kozlov pumps himself up. Photo: Robert Prezioso/Getty Images
Stefan Kozlov pumps himself up. Photo: Robert Prezioso/Getty Images

Kozlov Reels Off Six Match Points

Eric Quigley was forced to serve to stay in the match and the 27-year-old pulled out a tight game to stay in the match. A crucial break followed and the score was suddenly level at five games apiece. Quigley reeled off his third straight game for a 6-5 lead as the momentum shifted clearly in his favor. Kozlov went down two match points as he served for the match. The teenager fought back to save both points and keep his title hopes alive.

The third set tiebreaker would decide the champion and early tiebreaker proceedings saw Quigley take the upper hand as he found himself up 4-0 and just three points away from his first single title since 2013. Kozlov fought back to close the gap as he stood down five points to three. But Eric Quigley surged forward to arrive at triple match point. However, the younger competitor never gave up as he reeled off four points to earn a match point of his own. At the fourth time of asking, a finesse drop shot from Kozlov wrapped up a 6-7(3), 6-3, 7-6(10) win in nearly three hours.

Stefan Kozlov at the 2014 Junior Wimbledon trophy ceremony. Photo: Jan Kruger/Getty Images
Stefan Kozlov at the 2014 junior Wimbledon trophy ceremony. Photo: Jan Kruger/Getty Images

Americans Reflect On Hard-fought Championship

"That really was one of the toughest matches I've ever played. Obviously, because I had to save six match points. He could have won the match; I could have won the match. Back-and-forth, back-and-forth. I was real lucky to win this match,” Stefan Kozlov said after his two hour and 54 minute grinding win over Eric Quigley.

Eric Quigley complimented Kozlov after his heart-breaking loss to the teenager, "That's what he does so well. He fights to the bitter end and never gives up until you're shaking hands.”

The 27-year-old, Quigley, told the media about his physicality, “The third set I was kind of gassed and the legs weren't quite firing like they were earlier in the match. You just keep battling because you never know what can happen."