Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Kudla isn't kidding around in Sacramento Challenger

Top-seeded Denis Kudla eyes a forehand during his
6-4, 6-2 win over 18-year-old qualifier Tommy Paul
in the second round of the $100,000 Sacramento
Challenger. Photo by Paul Bauman
   SACRAMENTO, Calif. -- At 23, Denis Kudla already feels like an old man.
   The top seed defeated an 18-year-old for the second consecutive match today, dismantling qualifier and fellow American Tommy Paul 6-4, 6-2 to reach the quarterfinals of the $100,000 Sacramento Challenger for the second straight year.
   "I feel like I've been around a while," said Kudla, who beat Quentin Halys of France 7-5, 6-4 in the first round. "I went pro when I was 16. I've been out here a long time. I was in their shoes five years ago, so I know these guys can play. They believe they can beat us older guys. I'm glad to see that Tommy Paul, an American, is doing well."
   Kudla reached the final of last week's $100,000 Tiburon Challenger as the top seed, losing to his close friend and training partner Tim Smyczek after holding four match points. The net cord played a role on two of the match points.
   Four of Kudla's five matches in Tiburon went to three sets, including a first-rounder in which he came within two points of losing to unheralded American Connor Smith. The exception was a 6-4, 6-3 victory over seventh-seeded Blaz Rola of Slovenia. Rola, a 6-foot-4 (1.93-meter) left-hander, won the 2013 NCAA singles title as a junior at Ohio State before turning pro.
   Kudla, ranked a career-high 67th, needed only 58 minutes to dismiss Paul.
   "Today was definitely one of the better matches I've played probably since Rola last week," said Kudla, who trains in Tampa, Fla. "Everything went well, I played my game, and I couldn't ask for a better match.
   "The court is a little quicker (than in Tiburon), which I like. It was one of those days when I felt the ball well, I did everything right, I had a good warmup, and my body felt good. When those things happen, you usually have a good match."
Paul, one of only three Americans to win the
French Open boys singles title, unleashes a
forehand against Kudla. Photo by Paul Bauman
   Paul was impressed with Kudla's intensity.
   "He competes very hard every point," said Paul, who trains in Boca Raton, Fla. "He plays high-energy every single point, so it's tough to play against."
   In June, Paul joined John McEnroe (1977) and Bjorn Fratangelo (2011) as the only Americans to win the French Open boys singles title.
   Paul also qualified for the men's singles draw in the recent U.S. Open before losing to 25th-seeded Andreas Seppi of Italy 6-4, 6-0, 7-5 in the first round. Seppi stunned Roger Federer in the third round of the Australian Open in January.
   The 6-foot-2 (1.88-meter) Paul crushed his serve and forehand against Kudla but made repeated errors with his two-handed backhand.
   "I didn't hit my backhand too well yesterday, either," Paul said of his 7-6 (5), 6-3 victory over U.S. wild card Alex Kuznetsov, a two-time Sacramento semifinalist. "I think he saw that I wasn't hitting it well and kind of targeted it."
   Kudla denied that.
   "Not necessarily," he said. "He likes to move, and he's such a good ball striker. Guys like that are constantly on the run. I like to keep them in one spot and play the points the way I want to play them and not the way they want to play them."
   Paul lost his serve in the opening game of each set.
   "That didn't help," he conceded.
   Kudla led 5-2 in the first set and 5-1 in the second. Paul's only glimmer of hope came when he broke back for 3-5 in the first set, held for 4-5 and led 0-30 as Kudla served for the set. But Kudla reeled off the next four points.
Qualifier Nick Meister connects on a forehand
during his three-set victory over Darian King.
Photo by Paul Bauman
   Kudla will go back to being the young guy when he faces 28-year-old Daniel Brands of Germany in an intriguing quarterfinal on Friday. Brands, who has plunged from a career-high No. 51 in 2013 to No. 177, defeated wild card Sekou Bangoura of Tampa, Fla., 7-6 (4), 6-2.
   Both Kudla and Brands have reached the fourth round at Wimbledon. Kudla was the only U.S. man to advance that far this year, and Brands did so in 2010.
   In addition to age, the big difference between the players is, well, size. Brands is 6-foot-5 (1.96 meters) and Kudla 5-foot-11 (1.80).
   In the other quarterfinal decided today, wild card Matt Reid of Australia will meet qualifier Nick Meister of the United States.
   Reid surprised the fifth-seeded Rola 2-6, 6-4, 6-4.
   "I've got to thank (tournament director Brian Martinez) for giving me a wild card," said the 357th-ranked Reid, who won the 2013 Sacramento doubles title with countryman John-Patrick Smith. "Otherwise, I wouldn't have been able to play. When someone gives you a wild card, it shows they believe in you."
   Meister, a former UCLA All-American ranked No. 328, outlasted Darian King of Barbados 7-5, 5-7, 6-3. King knocked out second-seeded Kyle Edmund of Great Britain in the first round.
   Meister reached the final of the $50,000 Maui Challenger in January as a qualifier, losing to Jared Donaldson of Irvine, Calif.
   Donaldson, the seventh seed in Sacramento who will turn 19 on Friday, is scheduled to play Tennys Sandgren of Wesley Chapel, Fla., on Thursday in the second round.
   Sandgren, 24, won the 2012 Sacramento doubles crown with former University of Tennessee teammate Rhyne Williams and played for the Sacramento-based California Dream of World TeamTennis in July. 
At Natomas Racquet Club
Second-round singles
   Matt Reid, Australia, def. Blaz Rola (5), Slovenia, 2-6, 6-4, 6-4. 
   Daniel Brands, Germany, def. Sekou Bangoura, United States, 7-6 (4), 6-2.
   Nicolas Meister, United States, def. Darian King, Barbados, 7-5, 5-7, 6-3. 
   Denis Kudla (1), United States, def. Tommy Paul, United States, 6-4, 6-2.
First-round doubles
   Johan Brunstrom, Sweden, and Frederik Nielsen (1), Denmark, def. Evan King, United States, and Dimitar Kutrovsky, Bulgaria, 6-4, 2-6 [10-8].
   Ariel Behar, Uruguay, and Ruben Gonzales, Philippines, def. Brydan Klein, Great Britain, and Jose Statham, New Zealand, 6-3, 3-6 [10-5].
   Carsten Ball and Matt Reid (4), Australia, def. Darrin Cohen, Walnut Creek, and Kiryl Harbatsiuk, Sacramento/Belarus, 6-3, 7-5.
   Daniel Brands and Dustin Brown, Germany, def. Philip Bester and Peter Polansky, Canada, 4-6, 6-4 [10-4].
Doubles quarterfinals
   Blaz Kavcic and Grega Zemlja, Slovenia, def. Sekou Bangoura, United States, and Marek Michalicka, Czech Republic, 6-3, 7-6 (0).
Thursday's schedule
Court 1
(Starting at 10 a.m.)
   Tim Smyczek (4), United States, vs. Mackenzie McDonald, Piedmont.
 (Not before 11:30 a.m.)
   Dustin Brown (3), Germany, vs. Taylor Fritz, United States.
   Johan Brunstrom, Sweden, and Frederik Nielsen (1), Denmark, vs. Ariel Behar, Uruguay, and Ruben Gonzales, Philippines.
   Jared Donaldson (7), United States, vs. Tennys Sandgren, United States.
Court 7
(Starting at 10 a.m.)
   Blaz Kavcic (8), Slovenia, vs. Marcos Giron, United States.
(Not before 2 p.m.)
   Carsten Ball and Matt Reid (4), Australia, vs. Daniel Brands and Dustin Brown, Germany.
   Taylor Fritz and Reilly Opelka, United States, vs. Marcos Giron and Tommy Paul, United States.   

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