STEFAN KOZLOV was granted a last-minute lucky loser spot in the Abierto Mexicano Telcel draw.
Rafael Nadal received a personal message from the winner of the longest match in Acapulco history. The recent Australian Open champion had been hitting with Stefan Kozlov, who failed to qualify for the main draw at this week’s ATP 500, when the world No 130 got called up to face former No 3 Grigor Dimitrov.
Kozlov entered the qualifying event at the Abierto Mexicano Telcel, crashing out in the final round to second seed Oscar Otte, but stuck around in Acapulco and acted as a practice partner for Rafael Nadal, who is set to face Denis Kudla in his first match since becoming Australian Open champion.
But the 24-year-old was forced to abandon the 21-time Grand Slam champion in the middle of their practice set when he found himself with a last-minute spot in the main draw as a lucky loser.
Maxime Cressy withdrew from his match against former world No 3 Grigor Dimitrov shortly before they were due to take to the court on Monday evening local time.
Kozlov was granted the lucky loser spot and raced over to the court with half an hour to spare, coming out against the 2017 ATP Finals champion and battling through a monumental opening set, eventually taking it by ten points to eight in the tiebreak.
Having gone into the match with little prep and half a set with the world No 5 under his belt, the American then started suffering severe cramping during the second as Dimitrov ran over to check on his opponent.
The world No 130 had broken to lead 5-3 in the second when both of his quads suddenly cramped, as he felt to the floor in pain and was unable to get up until the Bulgarian and several court officials came to help him.
He then dropped the next four games in a row as the current world No 33 took the second set 7-5 and forced a decider but Kozlov was able to overcome his cramping and seal a 7-6(8) 5-7 6-3 win after three hours and 21 minutes, breaking the record for the longest match in Acapulco history.
The record itself was just a few hours old, set by John Isner and Fernando Verdasco in their own three hour 13 minute battle in the match played on Estadio court just before Kozlov and Dimitrov came on.
After booking his spot in the second round, the lucky loser took the opportunity to apologise to Nadal for ending their practice early, writing on the camera: “Rafa sorry for stopping practice today,” with a heart.
Kozlov could face Nadal in the next round, awaiting the winner of the Spaniard’s clash against Kudla.
The 24-year-old explained his wild lead up to the match, calling it “one of the craziest experiences of [his] life.”He explained: “I’m practicing with Rafa across the street, we’re playing a set, it’s like 3-3 15-0. He breaks a string, goes to his bag.
“I just happen to check my phone for whatever reason, I just had an intuition, and then I have 20 text messages from Ali [Nili, ATP supervisor] and the ATP manager and they’re like ‘Get over here’.
“So I drop all my stuff, I tell Rafa, he’s got a big smile on his face, he’s super excited for me because he knew I was number one lucky loser and so we stop practice.
“I got over here, I had about 30 minutes to get ready and just came out and gave it my all. Didn’t help to be moving side to side by Rafa before the match.”
Kozlov is now relishing the chance to potentially face his practice partner on a real match court, saying: “Today I was totally expecting not to be playing. Now I’ve got the biggest win of my career and I’m about to play Rafa Nadal.
“I was practising with him today at six o’clock and then I saw my messages. I think he’s just a fantastic human being, I just have so much respect and I can’t wait to put on a show with him.”