Correction: The original version of this article contained several errors. Daniel Kosakowski earned $10,800 at the 2011 Farmers Classic. Kosakowski also accepted $1,950 in prize money after the finals of a Futures tour event.
Daniel Kosakowski walked out of Straus Stadium on Wednesday with his tennis career at a crossroad. He left the court with a loss, which was unusual when he was UCLA’s No. 1 men’s singles player this past season, but he left with a check for $10,800 for reaching the round of 32 at the Farmers Classic.
Right now, though, it’s not just about the money for the 19-year-old. As he makes the transition from college to the pros, what he earns now is all an investment in his future.
Kosakowski’s run through the Farmers Classic came on the heels of a June announcement that he would not be returning to UCLA for his sophomore season. He’s had no qualms about the decision since he made it, and reaching the second round of a tournament on tennis’ top professional tier, the Association of Tennis Professionals, makes him look even smarter.
“I thought about (turning pro) the whole last year I was in school,” Kosakowski said. “It just came down to what I wanted and what I wanted to do with my life. I knew that I love tennis and it’s my passion and I wanted to just go for it. I felt that it was the right time for me.”
The Los Angeles Tennis Center was an apt location for what Kosakowski called a breakthrough in his career. A vocal collection of family, friends and teammates cheered on the Downey native to four straight wins before he fell to eventual champion Ernests Gulbis.
In the process, he qualified for his first ATP Tour main draw and won his first main draw match on the court where he played as a freshman.
“I came here last year, I’ve grown up watching this tournament; it feels amazing,” Kosakowski said after he qualified for the main draw. “All these people who’ve been watching me, they’ve seen me grow up as a player. They’ve seen me play when I was like 10. I’m sure it means a lot to them, too.”
Kosakowski wasn’t the only local tennis standout starting his transition to the professional level at the Classic. USC rising senior and 2011 NCAA singles champion Steve Johnson said that he will take the fall semester off to gauge his status as a pro. If he were to return to USC, he could vie for another singles championship and a fourth straight team title for the school.
Johnson and Kosakowski have somewhat of a rivalry that goes beyond the animosity between their schools. Kosakowski couldn’t beat Johnson during the NCAA season, but finally got his first win against Johnson in June.
It came in the finals of a Futures tour event, the third tier of men’s pro tennis, and gave Kosakowski his first pro title.
After the match, Kosakowski announced he would accept the $1,950 in prize money, effectively ending his college career. UCLA coach Billy Martin had hoped that Kosakowski would “test the waters” like Johnson, but Kosakowski was set on his future.
“He finally beat Stevie after losing to him four times during the year. I think he thought that was a good indication that he’s really ready,” Martin said. “I wasn’t surprised at all (at his decision).”
Martin has seen his fair share of Bruins leave school early. One of them was Mark Knowles, who teamed up with Xavier Malisse to win the Farmers Classic doubles title on Sunday.
Knowles moved on to become one of the top doubles players on tour for almost two decades, winning three grand slams.
“I know for myself when I was gauging how long to stay, it wasn’t so much my tennis game; it was more my maturity level,” said Knowles, who left UCLA in 1992 after three years. “The tour is a lot different from being in school. It can be lonely out there, it’s a lot of travel, you’re going to lose more than you’ve probably lost in your life. That can be tough to deal with for certain people.”
Kosakowski said he was ready for those trials he’ll face out on the tour.
His prize money from the Farmers Classic is going straight to the bank, and he’s using it for travel and expenses this summer as he continues his first year as a pro.
“I definitely know how hard it is, but I chose to do it because I love tennis,” Kosakowski said. “And however difficult it is, I want to do it.”
With reports from Evan Luxenberg, Bruin senior staff.