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Championship Week
Tiafoe Outlasts Kozlov to Claim 18s Title and US Open Wild Card
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Upsets were as rare as rain drops during the ten days of the USTA Boys 18s Nationals at Kalamazoo College's Stowe Stadium, with seven of the top eight seeds reaching the quarterfinals and the top four seeds making the semifinals. After nine days of mostly expected results, the final delivered more than four hours of excitement and drama with top seed Frances Tiafoe defeating No. 3 seed Stefan Kozlov 6-2, 6-4, 4-6, 4-6, 6-4 to claim the championship and the US Open main draw wild card that accompanies it.

Singles champion Frances Tiafoe
© ZooTennis.com
The field featured two reigning junior slam champions in Tommy Paul (French) and Reilly Opelka (Wimbledon), as well as the ITF's world No. 1 and No. 3 ranked juniors in Taylor Fritz and Michael Mmoh, certainly a first in the tournament's 73-year history. Although their résumés glittered, all eight of the top seeds faced challenges during the week, fighting off opponents who were determined to show their ability to compete at their level.

An ailing William Blumberg, the No. 8 seed, lost to University of Virginia rising sophomore Henrik Wiersholm in the second round, and his predicted place in the quarterfinals was filled by No. 12 seed Eduardo Nava. Kozlov defeated Nava 6-3, 6-2 to advance to the semifinals for the second year in a row, and he exceeded last year's result with a 7-6(3), 6-3 victory over No. 2 seed Fritz.

Tiafoe disposed of both junior slam champions to reach the final, defeating No. 6 seed Opelka 6-4, 7-6(3) in the quarterfinals and No. 4 seed Paul 6-3, 6-2 in the semifinals.

That set up a best-of-five set final between the two players with the highest ATP rankings: Tiafoe at 274 and Kozlov at 354. In pursuit of the US Open wild card that goes to the winner, the two 17-year-olds temporarily stepped away from the professional tour to compete in their first junior tournament of the year, and possibly the last of their careers.

The crowd, estimated at over 2000, filled the Stowe Stadium stands on an overcast afternoon, which saw a few sprinkles delay play for less than two minutes early in second set, but was otherwise perfect for fans and players alike.

When Tiafoe took the first two sets, history was on his side, as no player had ever come back from two sets down to force a fifth set, according to tournament records dating back to 1971.

Tiafoe went up 4-2 in the third set, but Kozlov refused to concede defeat, winning the final four games of the set.

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Page updated on Monday, March 11, 2019
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