Frances Tiafoe celebrates winning a crucial point against Grigor Dimitrov during their 4th round clash at the Australian Open
The Champion of Charlottesville: Denis Kudla Returns For Charlottesville Men’s Pro Tennis Challenger
Steve Fogleman, Tennis Atlantic
Denis Kudla says it’s great to be back in Charlottesville.
“I was on the ATP tour main circuit pretty much all of last year, playing a lot of tour events and my ranking dropped a little bit,” he told me on Sunday in Charlottesville, Virginia. “I’m glad to be back here. I know I’ve played well here in the last couple of years I’ve played and I really look forward to getting going.”
Played well is an understatement for Kudla. The Arlington, Virginia native won the Petit A’s tournament here when he was 9 years old, and won the grown-up version of the tournament, the Charlottesville Men’s Pro Challenger, when he was 20.
“It’s strange that I won my very first tournament here in Charlottesvile when I was 9 years old,” he reflected. “I’m 24 now and still back here playing. It’s pretty special.”
He was practicing with fellow Junior Tennis Champions Center alum Frances Tiafoe before our interview. Kudla was a JTCC prodigy while Tiafoe was a kid growing up in and around the facility. This year, Tiafoe is the tournament’s top seed. I wondered if Tiafoe saw him as a big brother.
“I would say I’ve been around him his whole life,” he replied. “I wouldn’t say big brother, but I definitely try to be some kind of mentor. He’s playing unbelievable and I’m still learning stuff from him.”
Goals for 2017 involve “trying to get back in the top 100 and solidify my spot there again, try to stay healthy, that’s the biggest thing,” he said. “It’s a long road, lots of up and downs, just try to stay away from the downs.”
Cubs or Indians in the World Series?
“I want the Cubs to win, but I think the Indians are going to take it.”
A long-time Philadelphia Eagles fan, Kudla also shared his thoughts on rookie quarterback Carson Wentz. “I like him. He came out a little too hot, but he came back to Earth. I think he’s got a great future.”
Sounds like my assessment of some of the guys on the tour. Kudla opens the tournament against Tommy Paul tomorrow afternoon on courts he’s known since a babe.
DC-AREA NATIVE FRANCES TIAFOE (@FTIAFOE) NABS WILD CARD TO @CITIOPEN MAIN DRAW
DC’s Capital Tennis Tradition Begins July 16 at Rock Creek Park Tennis Center
WASHINGTON (June 21, 2016) — Frances Tiafoe, one of the most promising young American players and a native of Prince George’s County, Md., will receive a wild card entry into the main draw of the Citi Open® Tennis Tournament. The Nation’s Capital Tennis Tradition will be held July 16-24 at the Rock Creek Park Tennis Center.
“I’m looking forward to the Citi Open this year more than any other tournament,” Tiafoe said. “I am thankful for the chance to play in front of my family and friends and will make the most of the opportunity.”
Tiafoe, 18, was the youngest player in the Top 200 of the ATP World Tour Rankings last year. In 2014, at 16 years old, Tiafoe made his ATP World Tour debut at the Citi Open with a wild card entry, in front of a cheering home crowd. In 2015, he secured his first ATP singles win at Winston-Salem, and competed in the main draws of both the French Open and U.S. Open. This year, he was named as one of 14 ATP “Next Generation” — young players who are rising to prominence in the sport.
“We’re excited to offer Frances home-court advantage in this year’s tournament,” said Jeff Newman, tournament director. “Washington fans have a chance to come out and support our homegrown talent — I know we can expect great things from him in the coming years.”
Tiafoe joins an exciting field of players at the tournament, which includes current top seed World No. 9 Tomas Berdych; three-time tournament champion and former US Open champion Juan Martin del Potro; 2015 tournament finalist John Isner; dynamic players Gael Monfils and Nick Kyrgios; Americans Jack Sock, Sam Querrey, Denis Kudla, Steve Johnson, and Taylor Fritz; and top international stars Grigor Dimitrov, Kevin Anderson, Marcos Baghdatis, and Borna Coric.
In the exciting women’s field, the tournament boasts former world No. 1 Caroline Wozniacki; defending champion Sloane Stephens; former U.S. Open champion and current No. 1 seed Samantha Stosur; Grand Slam finalists Eugenie Bouchard and Sabine Lisicki; and American Shelby Rogers, who had an incredible run to this year’s French Open quarterfinals.
The full doubles field is expected about two weeks before the tournament, headlined by the world’s most successful doubles team of all time, Bob and Mike Bryan. Players are subject to change due to injury or other unforeseen circumstances.
—S. Pegarido, Citi Open
Anna Kalinskaya had an easy peasy day yesterday in taking two titles at the ITF International Hardcourts in College Park, Maryland. First up was a two set 6-2, 2-1 win in retirement against Romanian Elena Ruse. The tournament’s top seed, she followed up the singles win with a 6-3, 7-5 doubles title with teammate Evgeniya Levashova, besting the American team of Gabrielle Andrews and Mia Horvit.
After the match, Kalinskaya told me that the timing of the title was fortuitous. “It’s great, because I feel more confident now for the US Open.” She admitted it was a nice treat to have more energy for the doubles match to follow than she normally would.
Her opponent, Elena Ruse, who retired, was still in very good spirits and clutched a Wimbledon towel, a spoil of war from her semifinal run through the junior tournament this summer. Ruse, whose middle name is Gabriela, prefers to be known as Gabby.
“My leg was bad”, she explained. “In the second round, I felt something in my leg, put on some tape and everything was good. Today, I felt so bad. I hope I will be much better for US Open”.
And what about that Wimbledon towel?
“It was my second Grand Slam and I played amazing. I love grass courts and I hope I will be there next year”.
Does she hope to have a special US Open towel to remind her of a great run through New York? “Of course”, she said.
Reilly Opelka, an unseeded American, posted an impressive 4-6, 6-4, 7-6 (4) comeback win over Tim Van Rijthoven to capture the boys title. Both players did a nice job of holding serve throughout. Opelka’s serve really bailed him out in the final two stanzas. I missed the end of the match, but I was impressed with the resolve of both players. Opelka reminds me a little of Sam Querrey or John Isner.
Let me give you some reminders about junior tournaments:
1) They hang towels anywhere they can: There’s no one to hand your towel to, so you hang it yourself: from a fence post, for example. But if you’re playing indoors, there is no fence. Then, you find something else. A door knob or a fire alarm will do.
2) The delays of chasing down running balls: They aren’t a bunch of time-wasters in the Juniors like they are in the pros. In fact, they often quick-pitch and sometimes opponents have to tell the player on the other side of the net to slow down. No commercial breaks and speedy changeovers means the matches move quickly. The balls are the one impediment to the smooth progress of the game. No ball kids means everyone is a ball-kid: fans, line judges, and even the Chair will occasionally hop down to kick a nearby ball in a server’s direction. Imagine that in a pro match.
Also, players who want to slow down the pace of a match can do just that depending on how passively they gather up the balls before service. A player about to return serve can also slow down the game depending on how quickly or not they return the ball from their side of the net. It’s a moment to catch your breath, if nothing else.
3) Keep your own score: Just like when you’re playing your buddy on the concrete courts behind the middle school. Like a broken clock, the flip scoreboard is only accurate once every two games when the players flip it on the changeover. We all take electronic scoreboards for granted until they’re gone. Or, you could always ask Colette Lewis of ZooTennis.com. She keeps a reporter’s note book up-to-date with score and stats.
3) The Fans: They’re aren’t too many of them at a match, and they are probably related to the player on court, so watch what you say. Yesterday was unusual in terms of light turnout. The stars of the host Junior Tennis Champions Center had been eliminated in the semis, and the torrential downpour moved the finals inside. And by inside, I mean you had to walk through four buildings to find the courts. I walked through two buildings full of tennis lessons in progress, each time saying thinking, ‘No, this can’t be it’. Finally, I walked into the last tennis barn on the property, saw Colette Lewis, and knew I had arrived!
It was a pleasure to watch Colette at work yesterday. There’s no one like her in the world of tennis, and everything I learned about junior tennis, I learned from her. She also has a very diligent assistant, when he’s not busy with other duties.
For me, this Saturday used to be about Arthur Ashe Kids’ Day in New York. After watching title-match tennis a short drive from home, this seemed like a much better way to spend the Saturday before the US Open instead.
—Stephan Fogleman, Tennis East Coast
Francis Tiafoe has every reason to be proud after a close loss to Evgeny Donskoy at the Citi Open in Washington, DC tonight. Though he lost 4 & 4, his big serve looked great. He fired up the crowd and they fired him up right back. In addition to his parents and family, his debut match was witnessed by players, friends and the extended family known as Every Serious Tennis Fan in Washington.
The 16-year-old got his first break of serve on Donskoy early in the second set, and the Junior Tennis Champions Center prodigy was never out of a set or the match until the final point of each. The Baltimore-born Tiafoe has trained at the College Park, Maryland training facility since he was a child and attended Citi Open every year since he was 9. Tiafoe saved 9 break points and other than a few double faults, it didn’t appear that the big stage made him nervous. In fact, he seemed to feed on the energy from the partisan crowd.
Donskoy said of his opponent, “I know this guy has a great future”.
After the match, he said “I just hope I can come back here” (to the Citi Open). I’m pretty sure that can be arranged, Francis. In fact, I’m very sure. Thanks for making everyone around here proud, Big Foe.
Big Fight From Jordi Arconada of @TheJTCC @CitiOpen Final Round Qualies
Stephan Fogleman, Tennis East Coast
Jordi Arconada (Photo: @Tennis_Shots for TennisEastCoast.com)
All in all, Jordi Arconada had a great weekend. Awarded a wild card to his first ATP tour-level event on Thursday, he proceeded to notch his first tour win over Michael Llodra on Saturday on an outer court. Today, he played a full three-set match on Stadium Court, before losing to Alex Kuznetsov 3-6, 6-1, 6-0 in 1:17.
Local fans, friends and Junior Tennis Champions Center classmates and alumni were enthralled with the excitement and the experience his punchy performance provided them this weekend.
Jordi Arconada’s a name to remember.
Tennis fans look forward to seeing him play at many Citi Opens Yet to Come.
N.B. — Chris Levy (@Tennis_Shots) has been on loan to us for the Citi Open. It was a blessing to have him on hand to capture Arconada in action today. Yesterday’s match was over so quickly, the talented photographer never stood a chance to take up his position.