Alexandr Cozbinov’s approach starts to match physical gifts

Rebels men’s tennis coach Owen Hambrook says junior Alexandr Cozbinov is athletic enough to make most college track teams. Considering his genes, the boast doesn’t feel all that far-fetched.

Cozbinov’s father, Leonid, was one of the top track and field athletes and tennis players in the eastern European country of Moldova and coached his son there from the beginning.

Now that Alexandr Cozbinov is stateside and playing for UNLV, that athleticism is shining through along with a new and improved approach to the game. At 12-4 this spring, Cozbinov has the best singles winning percentage on the team this season and picked up a big victory on March 17 with a defeat of then-No. 54 Arjun Kadhe of Oklahoma State.

“It was the biggest win of the season,” Cozbinov said.

The junior grew up tagging along with his father to tennis courts and soon the elder Cozbinov discovered his son had an aptitude for the game. Alexandr Cozbinov soon grew into one of the best young players in his country, achieving a career-high International Tennis Federation junior ranking of No. 267 in 2013.

He then arrived on UNLV’s campus as one of the best athletes Hambrook said the program has ever seen, but despite strong results something was missing. Cozbinov was often too hard on himself during matches and struggled to stay upbeat, leading him to seek out the UNLV TOPPS (The Optimum Performance Program in Sports) program this year.

The program assists with athletes on a variety of issues, but Cozbinov worked with a sports psychologist to make sure the mental side of his game matched his physical gifts.

“Very recently, he’s kind of changed,” Hambrook said. “Mentally, he’s definitely made a big commitment to try to get better. It’s showing in his results recently.”

Hambrook said he really noticed a change in Cozbinov’s approach the week of practice before the team’s match against Utah State on April 2. Since then, the 21-year-old is 4-0 in singles, looking to hit his stride as his team nears the end of the spring season.

“I feel a big difference in my game,” Cozbinov said. “For me, it’s just mostly trying to be positive, no matter what. Keep fighting.”

Men’s tennis, Part 2

The Rebels (14-7, 2-2 Mountain West) are not quite where they expected to be after returning all but one singles and doubles win from the team that claimed the 2016 Mountain West Tournament championship.

UNLV’s two conference losses both came by a single point, including one to Utah State on April 2 when sophomore Richard Solberg lost four consecutive match points in the deciding singles bout.

“We definitely let a couple matches slip away,” Hambrook said. “We’ve just had a lot of guys at various times not healthy or sick. That’s definitely been a factor.”

The team’s final four matches of the season all come on the road, where the Rebels are 1-3 this season.

Women’s tennis

UNLV (13-7, 2-1 Mountain West) gets to enjoy home field advantage all the way through the end of its schedule. The Rebels final two matches of the regular season are at home against UNR and Fresno State, and the Mountain West Tournament takes place at the Fertitta Tennis Complex starting April 27.

Baseball

It doesn’t take long to figure out why UNLV (12-22, 6-9 Mountain West) is on pace for a second straight losing season. The Rebels’ 5.54 ERA ranked 214th of 295 Division I baseball programs entering the team’s weekend series with Air Force, and after the series UNLV’s team ERA soared to 6.13.

The program record for highest ERA in a season is 7.43, set in 1997.

Contact reporter Ben Gotz at bgotz@reviewjournal.com. Follow @BenSGotz on Twitter.

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