Tag Archive: Denis Kudla


Tamarac USA F2 Futures Update!

And so it actually, finally, began. After braving blizzards, car trouble, and a mixed bag of calamities, our brave reporter (hint: that’s me) finally made it to see some actual tennis. What a concept. I slalomed around the various nefarious Floridumb strip malls to the oasis that is the Woodmont Country Club in Tamarac, FL – the site of the second annual *deep breath* Lawrence D. Share Company $10,000 Championships at Synergy Tennis Academy. Or, if you’re short of breath, the USA F2 Futures.

The site itself is top notch, and the organization seems superb. The twenty-court facility featured play on four of its “clay” courts on this Wednesday, having caught up on a backlogged schedule from a waterlogged Monday washout. The two main courts – the innovatively-named “Court 1” and “Court 2” – are separated by a raised, wide partition upon which random chairs and ceramic-y picnic tables are interspersed; a very spectator-friendly setup. Even better, the area between the featured back courts (Courts 9 and 10, if you’re scoring at home) has a shaded gazebo under which I could protect my blindingly pasty fresh-from-the-Northeast skin. Bonus!

I arrived just in time to see one of my 2011 Challenger Tennis Player To Watch selections, Dennis Kudla start his F2-ing against the tourney’s top seed, Victor Estrella. Estrella, the 30 year-old Dominican Republican (or perhaps he’s a Dominican Democrat – I didn’t ask), had finished his 2010 season on quite a roll, winning three straight Dom Rep Futures events (15 matches in all) before losing his final match of the year. All of which was good enough to land him a career high world ranking of 211 – not a bad achievement for someone entering his fourth decade. So I was eager to see how the rising star would fare against the established vet.

Turned out, not so well. At least to begin with. Two backhands into the net and a forehand long saw the 18-year-old Virginian broken in the first game of the match. Kudla then had two breakback points straightaway in the second game (after Estrella shot himself in the foot with the dreaded mediocre-drop-shot-to-awful-lob combo), but Victor found his way out of trouble with a framed volley and an ace erase to deuce and held from there.

The top seed – who the chair umpire seemed to call “Australia” (to my ears), in an obvious fit of Grand Slam fever – looked sharp early, hitting a heavy ball and knifing away the volleys he didn’t frame, while Denis struggled to find his range and/or mojo, seeming initially uncomfortable with conditions and his game on the day. The fleet-footed Dominican prefers to favor the ad court and load up on the forehand side whenever possible, but his heavily-sliced one-handed backhand is suitable to the Tamarac court, staying nice and low. Kudla is less averse to play off both wings, and he started to settle into the match midway through the first set. Though he had a few back-breaking opportunities throughout the set, in the end he was broken a second time as Estrella took the first 6-3.

Ever the supporter of my PTW’s in distress, I bailed and decided to see what else was going on around the grounds. I wanted to see how one of my almost-PTW’s, Pierre-Hugues Herbert, was faring against Phil Simm(ond)s (I myself have a touch of NFL playoff fever – deal). Turns out, not so well. The gangly 19 year-old showed some cliched French flair (drop-shotting four times in one game, venturing to net behind cheekily sliced forehands – you know the drill), but lost the first set to the 24 year-old American, who offered up my favorite bit of vocal self-coaching: “Really? REALLY?? RELAX!!!” It worked: Simmonds took the first set 6-4.

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USA F1 Futures Update – Plantation Open First Round Results

All of the first round matches have now been played at the Frank Veltri Tennis Center in Plantation, Florida, and the scores have finally been postedAnd there are lots of interesting results to chew on:

[Q] Andrea Collarini USA #580 d [1] Jesse Levine USA #289 4-3 ret. – A forearm injury for the top seed, here. But 2011 Challenger Tennis Player To Watch Andrea Collarini is now a perfect 4-0 for this season, having come through qualifying, so I’m feeling pretty good about that pick right now. Thanks, Andrea, for making me look good! The Americanized Argentine will play Slovenia’s Luka Gregorc (#464) in the next round. Gregorc beat qualifier Chris Kwon (#844) 6-4 6-0.

W] Wayne Odesnik USA d [Q] Teodor-Dacian Cracian ROU #602 6-2 3-6 6-3. For some reason, people are paying a lot of attention to this unranked player. I won’t do that (for now). Odesnik will play the formerly Sideshow Bob-haired qualifier Thomas Cazes-Carrere #582 in R2.

Dan Smethurst GBR #497 d [4] Nicholas Monroe USA #348 7-5 7-6(5). The 20-year-old Brit is, I feel, much better than what he’s currently ranked. Coming off a fairly abysmal 29/24 season in 2010 that saw his ranking slide 160 spots from a high of #337 in May, this win sees the inconsistent former Top 30 world junior start the year in a direction more reflective of his promise.

Conversely, Nick Monroe is someone who ended his 2010 campaign with some promising results, winning 9 straight Futures matches in Canada in September and qualifying for the main draw of the Knoxville Challenger, making it all the way through to the semifinals before going down to Kei Nishikori. This obviously won’t be the start he was looking to have, but as I said, Smethy is a better player than his ranking and I don’t think this result is as much of an upset as it looks on paper.

[Q] Christian Harrison USA d [W] Jeremy Efferding USA 6-4 7-5. While older brother Ryan was off playing strip tennis with Michael Llodra, John McEnroe and Henri Leconte, Christian racked up his first ATP point here. Normally this would be a good achievement in its own right. But considering the 16-year-old is returning to competition here after being sidelined for 18 months, I’d say it’s a fantastic achievement.

[Q] Phillip Simmonds USA #570 d [Q] Andrei Daescu ROU #814 2-6 6-4 6-2. OK, this wasn’t a very interesting result. But that’s just because the 24 year-old Simmonds has been near the Top 200 in his career and is by far the more experienced campaigner. Hey – how many interesting results do you need in the first round of a 10K Futures, anyway? Tough crowd! Moving on…

[6] Roman Borvanov MDA #431 d Daniel Garza MEX #454 6-0 6-4. An unusually lopsided score, for two players ranked so close to one another (Garza just missed being seeded here). Sure, the 28 year-old Borvanov has now won the last 7 matches against his 25 year-old opponent, but 4 of those matches have been 6-4 in the third or closer. This one wasn’t.

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The final qualifying round of the $10K USA F1 Futures has been played, and here are your results:

Christian HARRISON (USA) defeated Thai-Son KWIATKOWSKI (USA) 6-3 6-1
Dennis ZIVKOVIC (USA) (2) defeated Jack CARPENTER (GBR) 6-3 7-6(5)
Andrei DAESCU (ROU) (11) defeated Olivier SAJOUS (HAI) (3) 7-6(9) 2-6 6-3
Phillip SIMMONDS (USA) (4) defeated Alexander RITSCHARD (SUI) 7-6(5) 6-2
Andrea COLLARINI (USA) (5) defeated Daniel KOSAKOWSKI (USA) (9) 6-4 6-2
Thomas CAZES-CARRERE (FRA) (6) defeated Devin MULLINGS (BAH) 6-2 6-3
Teodor-Dacian CRACIUN (ROU) (7) defeated Jan KUNCIK (CZE) 6-3 6-7(2) 7-6(2)
Chris KWON (USA) (12) defeated Marcos GIRON (USA) 4-6 6-3 6-3

Ryan’s little bro making a name for himself, getting through over the precocious 15-year-old KwiatkowskiZivkovic continues the kind of play that saw him reach the semis of four Futures events last year, again at the expense of a game, young British competitor (he beat Oliver Golding in a tough first round on his way to the Mexico F8 semis this past November).  Sajous, the Plantation-based local fave who lost to Wayne Odesnik in the wildcard tourney, takes a tough loss at the hands of erstwhile Oklahoma Sooner Andrei Daescu.  Challenger Tennis 2011 Player To Watch Andrea Collarini with a decisive victory over UCLA freshman Kosakowski. 

Collarini has now drawn top seed Jesse Levine in the main draw.  I’m excited to see how Andrea fares in that one.  Zivkovic goes from second seed in quals to facing the main draw second seed in the form of Mr. Alex Bogdanovic.  Daescu slated to meet Simmonds in the main, in a Q v Q clash.  Harrison gets to test his mettle against fellow promising junior Jeremy Efferding.  Craciun gets a crack at Odesnik in the first round.  And Kwon gets the big Slovenian Luka Gregorc.

Other notable main draw Round One matches:

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As in “O Holy Night” – ’cause this is the 8th part of my 12 Days of Christmas series (and the players I’m profiling today speak Spanish), geddit?  Yeah – I’m not so thrilled with that joke either.  Let’s move on…

So, on this eighth day of Challenger Tennis Christmas, I have to say: I am the luckiest SOB on the planet. Why is that, you may wonder (if you’re the wondering sort)? Well, it’s because the two players who have been on my 2011 Players to Watch list/radar happen to be featured together in the most spectacular video I’ve featured to date. If you do nothing else today, I beseech you to skip my stupid words and pictures (if you must) and go directly to the “Javier Marti – Andrea Collarini final match in Palafrugellvid at the end of this article and, of course, watch it. If I do nothing else with this article other than getting you to watch that video, then it’s been a success.

Anyway, as you may have guessed – if you’re the deductive type – today’s 2011 Players to Watch are Javier Marti and Andrea Collarini. We’ll start with Javier. The 18 year-old from Spain made an early name for himself by winning the European Championships (U12) at age 11.   As with the course of many a Spanish prodigy, he largely left juniors behind in his mid-teens (he had always played up a level in juniors anyway), posting two quarterfinal and one semifinal showing in 2008 and finishing the year ranked #847 at age 16.

He started 2009 a rickety 9/15 but had twice the success in the second half of his season, going 18/15 to finish at 27/30 for the year. This year, Marti overcame an 0-5 start to his 2010 campaign to win his first pro tournament at the Bulgaria F3 Futures event in May.

But he didn’t stop there; the speedy-wiry Spaniard with the liquid backhand went on to take titles in Romania and Portugal as well, finishing at a 54/28 pace, gaining 350 spots on the ATP ladder and slicing his ranking in (more than) half, from #685 to #335. He’s now the fifth-youngest player in the Top 400, behind Bernard Tomic, yesterday’s profilee Facundo Arguello, Ryan Harrison and Filip Krajinovic.

Though he didn’t have much success at the Challenger level, going 6/9 on the year, he did post wins over Sam Groth and Alex Ward, and I strongly suspect that his results will only continue to improve has he fills out and gets stronger. According to his coach, Oscar Burrieza, there’s a lot he can do to get better mentally as well. I’ll have the opportunity to see him play in a few weeks, as he’s on the entry list for the USA F2 Futures in Tamarac, FL. I’m very much looking forward to my first chance to see him play in person.

OK, I got some vids for ya. This first one, which I trust you skipped right to (per my instructions), is of Collarini and Marti facing off in a U16 battle in Palafrugell Spain. I won’t spoil the outcome for you – you’ll just have to watch and see. What I will say, is that – with its hilariously epic music and descriptive documentation – I hope and expect this holcombBrook masterpiece to one day be looked back upon as a vital document of two talents who have since made it big. Their games may have changed a bit since then, but this vid provides terrific audiovisual insight into the sometimes awkward and hard-to-read lefty game of Collarini, as well as the tremendous racquet head speed of the Marti forehand and his comparatively compact and smooth swing off the backhand side. Great stuff!

I kinda dig this next vid for its practically subterranean vantage point – cool setting, too. I also like that Marti looks to attack, and is not just content to slug it out from the baseline. This is pretty recent footage, taken from a 6-4 5-7 6-3 win over Alessandro Gianessi (himself a former Top 40 junior) at the Spain F33 in September:

(p.s. watching parts 2 & 3 is recommended as well – there’s even some S & V in part 3!)

And lastly, but not Jason Priestley… you’re not going to learn a whole lot from this next video, but I’m including it for the following reasons: 1) the soundtrack, in a word, rules, b) Morgan Phillips is in it, and iii) Marti is having none of the net hug at the end. All of which makes it a pretty entertaining selection, to my eyes and ears:

That footage is from the final of Spain’s F34, by the way. Which took place just after the Spain F33 footage was taken, I’ll point out in case you’re quite dense.

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OK, people.

This site has already given a lot of deserved attention to this year’s USTA Wildcard Playoff Runner-up, Jack Sock. And practically every other tennis site has already given a lot of deserved attention to the WC winner (for two straight years), Ryan Harrison. But spare a thought for 18 year-old semifinalist Denis Kudla, won’t you? After all, he was the top-ranked U.S. junior, and he’s the guy ranked almost 400 spots higher than that guy who beat him in the semis (Sock won 6-2 7-5). For that – and a whole bunch of other reasons – Denis Kudla is a 2011 Challenger Tennis Player To Watch.

Let’s start at the end: the end of last year, when Denis won two of his final three junior tournaments of 2009 (and he might have run the table had he not had to retire at 0-2 in the 3rd set of his R16 Orange Bowl match). And these weren’t just any old tournaments; Kudla took the titles at the Eddie Herr International, where he beat Marton Fucsovics in a gutsy three-set showing, and the Grade A Casablanca Junior Cup, where he beat then #1 world junior Juan Sebastian Gomez 7-6(6) 6-2.

At the beginning of this year, Denis described himself primarily as a counterpuncher who liked to try and move forward from time to time but who could change up his game if he needed to.  Then fast forward to the end of the summer, when he expressed a desire to try and make the forecourt even more of a factor in his day-to-day play. “When I’m playing well, I like to move forward, and it’s something that I want to make consistent in my game,” he said. “I think that if I keep doing it, it could take me to the top level.”

Part of this new, aggressive mindset has to be due to Kudla’s pure physical transformation in the past year or so. Which is a fancy way of saying: he’s grown a lot. He’s become stronger and he’s filled out some. One of the reasons I’m so sold on Denis’ potential is he’s a bit of a late bloomer, physically, and yet he’s still been able to get big-time results. While a kid like Jack Sock was already a fairly hulking specimen at 16/17 years old and may not have much more growing to do, one only has to see the difference between Denis now and, say, a year ago to conclude he’s just beginning to hit his physical stride, and may have a fair farther distance to travel down that road. So if he’s getting these kinds of results while not being near his full physical potential, well – look out, tour, I say.

Another great thing about Kudla is his work ethic – I’ve never heard or read one person busting on Denis for not giving his best effort, both on and off the court. Perhaps it’s because he wasn’t a big specimen early that contributed to his scrappiness and his dogged determination, whether it be in drills, in the gym, or grinding through a long rally or match. Regardless, this quality will serve him in good stead as the Kiev-born, Northern Virginia boy tries to weather the sometimes-difficult transition from juniors to pros.

Want to hear another reason I’m backing this guy for 2011? Good, because I happen to have one right here: his ambition. Denis wants to be Number One in the world, and to try to win multiple Slams. He doesn’t want be Top 20. He’s not looking to be Top 10. Number one, baby. He aims high, and he believes he can do it. And belief is the foundation of reality, no?

His hope at the start of 2010 was to end the year in the Top 200, which is an incredibly bold goal for a 17 year-old ranked outside the Top 1000 to have. He hedged a bit later on and started saying Top 500, which is fine; because that’s where he is now, after a 27/18 season in which he took home his first Futures title in Austin, TX just one month after losing to you know who (Mr. Sock) in the US Open boys final (he’s #494 as of this writing, to be specific).

And even though Kudla had to settle for attaining his next-best goal, his current ranking still makes him the second youngest player in the Top 500, behind only Bernard Tomic. But you get the sense that Kudla doesn’t ever want to settle, and that kind of hunger will help him overcome many of the obstacles he’ll face in the upcoming year.  Don’t want to take my word for it? I don’t blame you. But here’s what Director of USTA Player Development Patrick McEnroe had to say in a special for the USA Today: “Just to see a kid like Denis Kudla battling Saturday and competing the way he did against Jack was really good for him. Even though he lost, he’s getting better and constantly improving.” You see? Even PMac says so.

Before we move on, check out this video from the awesome National Junior Team vs. USC “exhibition” in March, where Denis is playing 2009 National Indoor Intercollegiate champ (and 2010 finalist) Steve Johnson in a Super TB (Kudla’s in the far court to start):

Too bad the video runs out (although Denis probably wishes it did a few seconds before he almost served it over the baseline).  Kudla won the TB (and with it the match) 11-9.

Onward we move…

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