Tag Archive: Denis Kudla


On Monday’s Order of Play at this week’s Champaign Challenger, I couldn’t help but notice there were four (4) (FOUR!) different players named Dennis (or Denis) (or Denys) playing that day.

You See? I Wasn't Lying!

You See? I Wasn’t Lying!

And the last names are almost as similar: Zivkovic, Novolo, Novikov, Molchanov — you could practically spell all these surnames with the same rack of Scrabble tiles*. There’s also a Dennis Novak in the Top 400.

Add Denis Kudla and Denis Istomin to the list, and you gotta whole lotta Den(n)i(y)s goin’ on. And you wanna see something spooky? OK:

Dennis Nevolo Dennis Novikov
NATIONALITY USA USA
Age 23 20
Rank 579 625
Plays RH RH
Backhand 2H 2H
Career High 566 457
C High Was 10/28/13 08/12/13
Jr High 102 30
Best surface Clay & hard Clay
College Illinois UCLA (now pro)

They’re practically the same player**. Hell, they were the only two Dennises to even play collegiate tennis in the U.S. Plus, all these guys I’ve mentioned are right-handers with two-handed backhands. Methinks a field guide is in order! Follow me as we distinguish and differentiate all of tennis’s Dennisses***. In order of ranking, we have:

What Istomin of This?

What Istomining of This?

Denis Istomin

Nationality: UZB
Age: 27
Ranking: 45
Career High: 33
Career High Date: 8/27/12
Best Junior Rank: 412
Best surface: Hard
Identifying marks: Trademark goggles
Frequently seen with: his mother, who is also his coach
Interesting fact: He once won a refrigerator for winning a tourney.
 
I'm A Kudla Not A Fighta

I’m A Kudla Not A Fighta

Denis Kudla

Nationality: USA
Age: 21
Ranking: 113
Career High: 90
Career High Date: 10/28/13
Best Junior Rank: 3
Best surface: Hard
Identifying marks: Blonde hair
Maybe you can see him with: his USO Runner-up and Eddie Herr trophies
Interesting facts: Used to write all tweets without punctuation. Andy Murray had a dream he was playing Kudla in the Wimbledon finals. Also was one of my 2011 Players to Watch (though I’m not sure that last one really counts as “interesting”).
 
Molchin' It

Molchin’ It

Denys Molchanov

Nationality: UKR
Age: 26
Ranking: 261
Career High: 206
Career High Date: 5/6/2013
Best Junior Rank: 70
Best surface: Hard
Identifying marks: Shoulder-length brown hair
Frequently seen with: Headphones (main listed interest is: Music).
Interesting fact: When you google him, you get a Denny’s ad as part of search results.
The Other Novak!

The Other Novak!

Dennis Novak

Nationality: AUT
Age: 20
Ranking: 365
Career High: 365
Career High Date: 11/11/13
Best Junior Rank: 29
Best surface: Hard
Identifying marks: Frankly, I don’t feel comfortable revealing this.
Frequently seen with: Ping pong paddle (enjoys table tennis).
Interesting facts: Protege of Gunter Bresnik, trains with Dominic Thiem.
 
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Hmmm.  It seems all I ever post here anymore is W.A.T.C.H. Lists.  Perhaps I should just change this blog’s name to WATCH List Tennis instead of Challenger Tennis.  Well fear not, loyal Challenger tennis fans, I’ve a post in the works that’s sure to be the best damn thing you’ll ever read*.  But enough about me and my lazy malaise; this post is about celebrating other people dammit! (Seriously, though, I’m great.)

Let’s therefore take a look at Who’s Achieved Their Career Highs for the week:

Player NATIONALITY Age New High
Federico Delbonis ARG 23 55
Michal Przysiezny POL 29 69
Tim Smyczek USA 25 87
Diego Schwartzman ARG 21 107
Facundo Bagnis ARG 23 143
James Duckworth AUS 21 147
Facundo Arguello ARG 21 150
Radu Albot MDA 23 172
Renzo Olivo ARG 21 179
Gerald Melzer AUT 23 187
Blaz Rola SLO 23 190
John-Patrick Smith AUS 24 208
Enrique Lopez-Perez ESP 22 224
Mohamed Safwat EGY 23 237
Lorenzo Giustino ITA 22 249
Kimmer Coppejans BEL 19 258
Thiago Monteiro BRA 19 266
Yong-Kyu Lim KOR 22 269
Chase Buchanan USA 22 275
Theodoros Angelinos GRE 29 283
Bjorn Fratangelo USA 20 292

So people, do you see what I see? (NOTE: I’ve highlighted it in blue, so if you don’t see it then you should get your eyes checked.)  Yup, that’s right: the Argentinians have continued their relentless assault on the weekly W.A.T.C.H. list charts.  And this week there are more then ever! Five (5) (FIVE!) of the Top 10 on this week’s list are from La Legion Argentina.

Seriously, what is in the water in Argentina?  Whatever it is, it makes them multiply like career-high Mogwai.

One of these beings is not like the others.

One of these beings is not like the others.

And can this Argentinian water be bottled and exported?  Because it’s almost as if the players from other nations are just WATCH list gate-crashers at this point. (And to think, San Juan Challenger winner Guido Andreozzi was only four ranking rungs off his high too!) Nothing surprises me about their success these days.  At this rate, I wouldn’t even be surprised if they all were from Tandil, a la Juan Martin del Potro, Juan Monaco, Maximo Gonzalez and others.  (Del Potro, by the way, thinks it’s the meat and not the water.)

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For the past couple of days, I’ve found myself wondering about just how advantageous home court advantage is in tennis.  Does it confer the same enormous weight as it does in team sports like football and basketball?

Yesterday, I finally started to look for answers. Since I found no sites online that distinguish between home and away records in tennis (and if there is one, please let me know so I can feel silly about having done all this work), I decided to do my own research on the matter. Here’s what I found:

Player Home Hard Court Win% Away Hard Court Win% Home Clay Win % Away Clay Win % Home Grass Win % Away Grass Win % Overall Home Win % Overall Away Win % % of matches played at home
Jack Sock 54.55% 50.00% 65.79% 62.50% 50.00% 33.33% 56.29% 52.94% 89.88%
Michael Russell 63.04% 56.48% 62.81% 44.04% 58.33% 42.86% 63.35% 48.75% 68.37%
Denis Kudla 56.73% 61.54% 55.56% 45.45% 42.86% 58.62% 57.29% 56.60% 78.97%
Tim Smyczek 57.27% 61.11% 59.26% 0.00% 66.67% 55.00% 57.47% 52.27% 91.63%
Ryan Harrison 58.46% 57.14% 53.85% 45.45% 55.56% 50.00% 55.88% 51.61% 68.69%
Rajeev Ram 49.50% 53.00% 35.71% 33.33% 70.00% 34.48% 52.17% 48.24% 71.99%
Rhyne Williams 50.62% 40.00% 59.46% 62.50% 0.00% 40.00% 54.59% 55.88% 84.47%
Alex Kuznetsov 54.84% 52.50% 61.73% 25.00% 62.50% 53.33% 55.21% 46.94% 83.04%
Wayne Odesnik 62.24% 51.28% 70.59% 58.08% N/A 50.00% 62.56% 56.36% 64.40%
Bradley Klahn 65.98% 50.00% 41.18% 50.00% 0.00% 50.00% 59.52% 50.00% 92.65%
Donald Young 58.05% 57.50% 56.00% 0.00% 40.00% 36.36% 57.07% 47.73% 81.55%
Bobby Reynolds 61.87% 56.00% 53.85% 27.27% 40.00% 53.66% 60.15% 51.38% 82.73%
Steve Johnson 58.14% 72.73% 47.06% 60.00% 50.00% 75.00% 57.03% 69.23% 83.12%
Austin Krajicek 58.09% 76.47% 65.22% 33.33% N/A N/A 60.22% 65.22% 89.00%
Brian Baker 53.70% 53.33% 87.14% 73.33% 66.67% 61.54% 64.07% 59.57% 83.09%
Robby Ginepri 58.02% 50.00% 48.15% 45.65% 69.23% 39.02% 56.99% 50.26% 66.26%
Tennys Sandgren 63.11% 40.00% 55.17% 16.67% N/A N/A 59.56% 27.27% 94.33%
Bjorn Fratangelo 46.94% N/A 63.64% 75.00% N/A N/A 57.66% 75.00% 89.54%

And yeah, I know that table is hard to read. Alas, my wordpress/HTML tabling skills aren’t what they could be.  To that end, I had to eliminate the “Indoor Home Win Percentage” and the “Indoor Away Win Percentage” columns in order to make room for the rest.  If you’re desperate for that information, I’ll be happy to email it to you.

To make things slightly more legible/enjoyable, I’ve colorfully highlighted the numbers I’m focusing on.  If you’re interested in the methodology behind how I arrived at these numbers, do please check the footnote*.

But within this horrid chart, the first thing that jumps out at me is:

Three of the four players who have a better winning percentage outside North America than they do within have something in common — can you spot it?  That’s right: they all played collegiate tennis. Rhyne Williams, Stevie Johnson and Austin Krajicek all have better records in far-flung regions than they do in the American North.

Steve Johnson and Rhyne Williams, NCAA Trophies In Hand

Steve Johnson and Rhyne Williams, NCAA Trophies In Hand

This suggests a few things.  First, the learning curve isn’t as steep transitioning to the pro game from college. This could be because a) they’re more familiar with playing against hostile crowds and people cheering against them (those of you who watch college tennis will know of what I speak); b) their bodies are more developed and physically able to keep up with the men as they begin life on the pro tour; c) their strategic sense is more developed or; d) all of the above. I lean toward “d”, myself, but I’m open to other suggestions.

(Author’s note: yes, I know Tennys Sandgren’s match record away from home flings a statistical wrench at my theory.  However, Sandgren is the American who plays the largest percentage of his matches on U.S. ground, and I don’t consider eleven matches (3 wins, 8 losses) to be a large enough sample size to be statistically relevant.  So my theory remains largely undamaged.  I think.  Maybe. You be the judge.)

Does Tennys Sandgren's Winning % Away From Home Make My Theory A Stretch?

Does Tennys Sandgren’s Winning Percentage Away From Home Make My Theory A Stretch?

You also may notice a red-highlighted Bjorn Fratangelo hangin’ a hefty 75 percent win rate in the foreign soil column.  In this case, the word “soil” is the key to figuring out that stat; e.g. the 2011 French Open Boys Champion is a red clay hound, and there ain’t hardly many red clay courts Stateside.  So he and his team have done a great job finding the proper venues through which he can find success.

The above numbers also give Ryan Harrison a couple of boosts he might be in need of these days: Harrison is the only “young gun” to play over 30% of his matches away from home. Only  the older guys like Robby Ginepri, Wayne Odesnik, and Michael Russell have played a similar schedule. Plus, Ryan has a winning record both at home and on the road.

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USA F4 Palm Coast – The Coast With The Most

On Thursday I pack up my Futuresmobile and head up from Vero Beach (where I’m currently stationed) to catch the USA F4 in Palm Coast, which is about a four hour drive north from where the previous three Florida Futures events have been played and is the last of the events on this FL winter swing. I know I’m getting in the right area when I see this marquee about two miles from the Palm Coast Tennis Center:

Simply swinging, eh? Do you think they chose that show as a promotional 10K tennis tie-in? Probably not, huh? Doesn’t stop me from stopping to take a picture of it, though. And boy, you can really feel that four hours of northitude in the air. And yes, I know – if there’s one thing that really iced my cream when I lived up North, it was people in Florida complaining about “the cold” where there’s no snow to contend with, no sub-freezing temps, no arctic wind chill, etc. But on this Thursday, people are wearing full on winter jackets (as opposed to half-on winter jackets), and in some cases are wandering around in what look suspiciously like Snuggies.

I head for the bathroom of the quaint Palm Coast Tennis Center and am immediately confronted by yet another sign:

You’ll no doubt be happy to know I rated a “3”. What? Tennis? OK. Lots of that around the facility. And I had already missed a lot as well. The first rounds played out over Tuesday and Wednesday with a few very surprising results. For one, USA F3 Weston champ Phillip Simmonds lost to 17-year-old Czech Jan Kuncik, ranked #1676 in the world, 6-3 7-6(6). Wowzers. Seventh seed Denis Kudla also lost a tough one, 4-6 6-4 6-7(3) to F3 dubs champ Soong-Jae Cho. All in all, it was a terrible tourney for the seeded, as only three of the top eight players advanced into the second round – (3) Matt Reid, (8) Razvan Sabau and top-seed Greg Ouellette.

It was the latter whose match I’m here to see first, as he’s paired up in a lefty battle against none other than Wayne Odesnik – making his comeback, of course, from a substance-related suspension. Wayne had lost one match to F1 eventual champion Luka Gregorc and had to retire against Nikko Madregallejo in Weston, but was otherwise undefeated on the year. I’m interested to hear how Wayne is received, and he gets a smattering of applause from the hearty assemblage of spectators. Ouellette, a bigger local fave, receives a much healthier hand for his intro, but Wayno doesn’t get shut out in that regard.

On court, however, it seems he might. Get shut out, that is. Appearing very nervous, Wayne double faults thrice and gives up his initial service game, while Ouellette holds from 0-30 with two service winners and an ace wide. Down 2-0, Odesnik gets on the board when the top seed nets two backhands from 30-all, and then gets even as Ouellette makes four unforced groundstroke errors in the next game. Already there’ve been three over-fifteen-stroke rallies in the match.  Greg gets it to deuce on Wayne’s service game at 2-all, but Odesnik is starting to settle in and rip the ball. He hits three outright forehand winners and forces two more errors off that wing to take his first lead of the set, 3-2* on serve. Ouellette is broken to 15 in the next game and gets a very strictly-enforced code violation for ball abuse – for whacking it into the net.

Though Ouellette plays a nice game to break back to 3-4, he doesn’t win another in the match. Odesnik is just in his own stratosphere, gamewise; it becomes quickly apparent that Ouellette can’t do anything to consistently trouble the 25 year-old, while Wayne is hitting the ball very deep, hard and heavy – it’s a level of tennis I’ve yet to see on the Florida clay these past few weeks, for all the good ball I’ve seen. Even acknowledging that Wayne was a Top 100 player, there was no guarantee that he’d come back match tough or be able to handle his nerve or be in this kind of form.

After the match, Wayne tells me that he hadn’t played Greg since they were about 13 or 14 years old (they grew up in Florida juniors) and though he didn’t remember the results, he remembers always having trouble with him. “He started out well today, and conditions were a little different, so I’m glad it went my way.” I asked him to compare coming through the Futures circuit again now as opposed to when he was first coming up. “When I started out I was 16 or 17 years old, so I was still learning and I was one of the new guys. Where now, hopefully I’ll just play a couple more Futures and that’s it for me, and then I’ll go back the a challengers and ATP events. But the court doesn’t change – there’s a court, there’s a ball and there’s an opponent, and that’s it. And that’s all I’m focused on right now.”

I hear Jack Sock “C’mon!”ing in the distance, and – since I am now officially his shadow – that cry is kind of my bat signal in the sky to go check on the 18 year-old prodigy’s progress. He’s up against a guy who’s quickly becoming something of a nemesis – the very same Soong-Jae Cho who beat Kudla in the first round here also teamed up with Hyun-Joon Kim to beat Sock and his partner Dimitar Kutrovsky in the finals of F3 doubles. And those same two teams would be meeting for a rematch later on this very day.

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USA F3 Weston – Sock vs. Kudla Match Recap

I have a lot of matches to catch up on, here, and I might have to start cutting corners and decreasing detail in these match recaps. This may come as good news to some. But I thought I’d give the Sock vs. Kudla match “the full treatment” in an article of its own, since I feel it’s a bit of a marquee matchup.

So:

On a beautiful sunny and mild morning on Thursday, I began the day very excited to see Jack Sock vs. Denis Kudla Part IV. Part I, of course, was their semi-classic windblown US Open juniors final, which Sock won in three sets. They met again in Pensacola USA F30 in November of last year, and Jack won a close two setter. Sock had also taken their USTA Australian Open Wildcard playoff match in Atlanta, as ably recounted here by Stephie, so I was eager to see how my 2011 Challenger Tennis Player To Watch pick (Kudla) would fare in this contest. Even though Jack had been 3-0 in their previous head-to-head, I saw this as a compelling and budding rivalry – a pretty rich history of important matches for guys who are 18 years old and have yet to play a full season on the pro circuit, I’d say.

“Best American rivalry of the next decade?” I mischievously tweet, trying to start a riot amongst Ryan Harrison fans. They didn’t take the bait. Maybe Ryan did, though, as he’s won through to the semis of the Honolulu Challenger this week – I like to think he’s doing so well just ’cause he saw that tweet and is trying to spite me. #delusional

The match certainly starts off with a high quality of play – an 18-stroke rally that ends with a not-so-well-Socked drop shot into the net. Serves are held fairly easily early, even though Jack seemed frustrated with his service game.

At 2-all 40-30 with Kudla serving in the first, he comes rushing to net but biffs a half volley off a low Sockslice. Deuce. After a ten shottish rally, Denis tags a run-around forehand long, and it looks like his feet get crossed up a bit on that one. At break point, Kudla forehands wide to give Jack a break.

With Sock serving at 4-3, Kudla cracks an inside-in forehand and then Jack backhands into the net for 0-30. “Are you kidding me?” asks Jack. I, for one, am not. Then the big Nebraskan comes in on a forehand approach shot right into Denis’s wheelhouse, and he busts a crosscourt forehand pass. “Sweet!” says Jack. My sarcasm detector is registering like a Geiger counter in Chernobyl.

Down triple break point, Jack aces twice. At 30-40, Kudla’s in control of the point with a backhand just inside the baseline, but it’s called out then overruled by the chair ump. Denis is dumbfounded. Jack is incredulous: “Is that your mark?” he asks the chair, skeptically. Either way, Sock backhands wide on the replayed point and Denis breaks back to 4-all.

At 4-all Kudla serving at 40-30, Sock scrambles superbly, tracking down a drop shot and lob and then a forehand volley for the pass. He dominates the next rally to earn a break point, and Kudla hits a leaping backhand ingloriously into the net.

With Jack serving for the first set at 5-4, he comes into net with a nifty inside/in approach shot off a short Kudla return. Denis loses the point and groans, “So unlucky. I always play so bad.” I think he means against Jack, and not, like, always.  Kudla rebounds with a nice backhand volley winner for 15-all. “Yup. Nice shot,” Sock says. Jack’s not serving particularly well this tournament; he likes to say “Wow” a lot on missed first serves, and I now can’t get the Andy Roddick comparison out of my head (thanks, Colette). Regardless, I’m loving the intensity and animation on display in this match. Jack is a quality watch, and you should see him if you can.

At 30-15 we get intensity and animation by the bucketload. Denis inside-ins a forcing forehand, but Jack doesn’t like the mark. The ch/ump checks the mark and agrees, calls it out. Denis: “Are you serious? Just ’cause you listen to him?” Jack: “You know that ball was in.” On the next point, Jack cracks a service winner and screams, “C’MON!!!!” I can see how he rankles some, and sometimes I might be one of the rankled, but Sock is seriously good at the mental/mind games. He strives for every edge he can get on every point in every match that I’ve seen. Guy knows how to win.

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