Rafael Nadal made a perfect start to the previous season, conquering Melbourne and the Australian Open before heading to Acapulco, seeking his fourth crown in Mexico. Nadal trained with Stefan Kozlov before the event, although they did not finish their session!
The American got a call from the organizers to prepare for the main draw, entering the action as a lucky loser. Thus, Rafa and Stefan earned a chance to play an official match a few days later! Kozlov made a slow start to the season before reaching the Delray Beach quarter-final ahead of Acapulco.
Stefan faced Grigor Dimitrov in the opening round and survived cramps and drama in a 7-6, 5-7, 6-3 triumph in three hours and 21 minutes! The American scored two points more than the Bulgarian, and there was nothing to separate them after four breaks on each side.
The opening set lasted an hour and 20 minutes, with two rivals staying neck and neck. Kozlov claimed it 10-8 in the tie break after fending off two set points, gathering a massive boost.
Rafael Nadal trained with Stefan Kozlov in Acapulco last year.
The younger player led 3-1 in the second set before Dimitrov climbed back to level the score at 3-3.
Stefan broke again in game eight to move 5-3 ahead and serve for the victory. Instead of bringing the match home, he lost four straight games and handed the set to Grigor! Experiencing massive cramps, Kozlov kept fighting and survived a marathon in the deciding set's first game.
Barely moving and struggling, the players were engaged in a tight battle before Stefan scored a break to open a 4-2 lead. Kozlov stayed focused in games seven and nine, serving well and moving over the top with a hold at 5-3, advancing into the second round and setting the Rafael Nadal clash.
It was the first duel between Nadal and Kozlov, and the favorite grabbed a commanding 6-0, 6-3 triumph in an hour and 16 minutes. Stefan did not have much left in the tank after enduring that marathon against Dimitrov. He experienced a bagel in the opener and played better in the second.
Rafa lost ten points in eight service games, keeping the pressure on the other side. The Spaniard suffered one break from the only chance offered to his opponent. Nadal turned over half of the return points into five return games from six opportunities.
Rafa landed 29 winners and 18 unforced errors, with over ten direct points coming from his smash, which worked like a charm. Stefan fought well in the second set, but Rafa did enough with a couple of breaks on his tally.