Stuck mid-sea, cramping on court: Stefan Kozlov’s incredible 24 hours ends with win and a likely Nadal match-up

Stefan Kozlov had lost in the final round of qualifying in Acapulco on Sunday. But the 24-year-old American is through to the second round of the ATP 500 event after a wild 24 hours that you have to read about to believe

Stefan Kozlov of the U.S. celebrates winning his match against Bulgaria's Grigor Dimitrov at the ATP 500 Abierto Mexicano February 22, 2022 Stefan Kozlov of the U.S. celebrates winning his match against Bulgaria’s Grigor Dimitrov at the ATP 500 Abierto Mexicano Image Credit: AI / Reuters / Panoramic

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After losing in the final round of qualifying at the ATP 500 event in Acapulco, American Stefan Kozlov had scheduled a visit to the beach, followed by a practice session with 21-time Grand Slam champion Rafael Nadal for Monday

Never would have the 24-year-old imagined how his day would eventually unfold with an adventure in the sea and a late call as a lucky loser moving him into the main draw (after American Maxime Cressy withdrew) to take on former world No 3 Grigor Dimitrov.

As he explained after his match, Kozlov was practicing with Nadal across the street from the Centre Court and the duo were tied at 3-3 in their practice set. When the Spaniard broke his string in the seventh game, Kozlov used the break to check his phone and found a string of messages from the tournament and ATP officials to let him know he had been bumped up into the main draw.

Stefan Kozlov cramps just as he breaks to serve for the match

Making the most of the opportunity, Stefan Kozlov, a former world No 2 junior and junior Australian Open runner-up, took the early break and led 4-2 in the first set. The Bulgarian, the 2014 champion in Acapulco, broke back and took the set to a tiebreak. It was Kozlov who managed to hold on and win it 10-8 to take a one set lead.

After the two players exhanged early breaks in the second set, Kozlov broke again in the eighth game to go up 5-3 and serve for the match.

That’s when the drama on the court started. Immediately after breaking, Kozlov began to cramp badly just as he was supposed to serve for the match, with both his quads getting locked and the American falling to the ground.

With rules prohibiting Kozlov from getting treatment for the cramps and with some help from his opponent, the American somehow managed to stand up and served in the game. However, Dimitrov broke back to level the set at 5-5, then broke again to win the set 7-5 and sent the match into a decider.

Kozlov was visibly struggling to move around at the baseline but managed to save six break points in the first game to hold for 1-0. And it was the 130th ranked American who pulled out the first break in the decider to go up 4-2.

Pumped up after the break, Kozlov managed to hold on to his next two service games to complete the wild 7-6, 5-7, 6-3 win in 3 hours and 21 minutes. By then, the match had become the longest ever match in the history of the Acapulco event, breaking a record set just a few hours earlier.

In the first match of the day, American John Isner came from 3-5 down to beat Spanish veteran Fernando Verdasco 7-5, 6-7, 7-6 in a three-hour 13 minute marathon.

Rafa Sorry for stopping the practice today

Delighted after his win, Kozlov sent his practice partner Nadal a message via the signing on the camera, saying “Rafa Sorry for stopping the practice today”.

Kozlov, who will move within a few spots of his peak ranking of No 115 which he achieved in 2017 after this win, and Nadal could get a chance to complete their unfinished business in a couple of days. The two are scheduled to clash in the second round of the tournament, provided Nadal can get past American lucky loser Denis Kudla in his first round match on Tuesday.

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