LAS VEGAS, October 19, 2018 (by Steve Pratt)
Twenty-year-old American Stefan Kozlov will return to defend his singles title as the Las Vegas Tennis Open ATP $50,000 Men’s Challenger returns for a fourth consecutive year.
Matches will take place starting Saturday, Oct. 20, with qualifying at the Fertitta Tennis Complex on the campus of UNLV. Once again this year the tournament’s presenting sponsor is the Orleans Hotel & Casino, the official partner is the Andre Agassi Foundation for Education, and the official charity is the Marty Hennessy Inspiring Children Foundation.
Main draw singles and doubles matches begin on Monday, Oct. 22, with the finals in both set for a week from Sunday, Oct. 28. The tournament director is Jean-Francois Blais and the tournament host is once again Owen Hambrook, the UNLV head men’s tennis coach.
Last year, Kozlov of Florida needed three sets to beat Liam Broady and didn’t drop a set until the finals to win his second career $50,000 Challenger. Kozlov, who currently sits at No. 262 in the ATP World Tour rankings, pocketed $7,200 for his efforts.
“At the time I was striking the ball really well and had a lot of confidence,” Kozlov said. “I think the biggest take away from that event was that I competed really hard and just dealt with the circumstances really well. There was some wind a couple of the days and I just dealt with it.
“I’ve gotten better since last year but the results just haven’t come for me like I’d like, but it’s only a matter of time.”
Just two months ago, Kozlov decided to move to the USTA National Tennis Campus at Lake Nona in Orlando, Fla., and said the move and working with the USTA coaches has invigorated his game.
“It’s easier just having the training center there (at Lake Nona),” he said. “There are a lot of resources there. It’s just about putting in the work week in and week out and just playing the best you can each week and hopefully have a good week followed by another and gaining that momentum. There’s a lot of momentum in this sport.”
Kozlov said Las Vegas kind feels like a home base for him as he has spent time in the past with Agassi’s former trainer Gil Reyes. “Everything just kind of came together for me last year,” he said. “I just felt so comfortable right when I got to Las Vegas. Just meeting Owen and JF for the first time, and it’s such a well-organized tournament. It felt just like home.”
Former Michigan All-American from Southern California Jason Jung is ranked No. 128 in the ATP World Tour Rankings and expected to be one of the top-seeded players, as is former Wimbledon Junior Boys’ champion Noah Rubin (No. 129) and hard-serving 6-foot-11 Floridian Reilly Opelka (No. 132).
Also expected to compete are 22-year-old Australian Thanasi Kokkinakis – who beat Roger Federer at the Miami Open in March – former world No. 1 junior Casper Ruud of Norway, and Blaz Rola, a former NCAA singles (2013) and doubles (2012) champion from Ohio State.
At the age of 36, Tommy Robredo of Spain is entered in the main draw and is ranked No. 216. Robredo got to as high as No. 5 in the world in 2006 and has reached the quarterfinals of three Grand Slams. He has defeated the likes of Federer, Novak Djokovic, Andy Murray and Stan Wawrinka and was teammates with Rafael Nadal to win three Davis Cups for Spain.
“My motivation is that I still love to play tennis,” Robredo told the New York Times after qualifying for the US Open in August. “It’s as simple as that. I may not be as good as I was. When you are young, you can jump, you are faster and you move better. But I have goals, and the big one is to get back into the top 100.”
The longtime Las Vegas resident and former world No. 1 Agassi will be the tournament’s special guest on Semifinal Saturday, Oct. 27. In conjunction with the USTA Foundation and the impact barter startup have|need (haveneed.org), the Andre Agassi Foundation for Education and area National Junior Tennis and Learning (NJTL) chapters will receive new tennis racquets as part of a USTA Foundation Net Generation Tennis clinic in partnership with have|need and its founder Josh C. Kline.
For a complete schedule and more information, visit the tournament website at: www.lasvegastennisopen.com.