On Tuesday, it is a match-up of two Americans who appear to be headed in two very different directions as they meet in Atlanta. My Fine Swine spotlight shines on two guys who both want this win for very different reasons.
Denis Kudla made it through the final round of qualifying on Monday with a 7-5, 6-2 win over Marinko Matosevic. For Kudla, ranked 97th entering the week, it is a Summer of opportunity. A 4th round run at Wimbledon saw Kudla fire up 34 spots into the Top 100. That means main draw entry into the U.S. Open and he definitely has the chance to move up further as the summer hard court season rolls on. For Ryan Harrison, he took a wild card to get into the main draw in Atlanta. That is his 6th main draw at the ATP level this season. Harrison has been mired in the muddy middle of the rankings after ending an inconsistent 2014 near #190. A Challenger win early in the season jumped him to 160 and then a semifinal run at the Abierto Mexicano Telcel in Acapulco in February got him as high as #110. He has been unable to make any headway though as he is currently ranked 127th.
So as they meet in the opening round of the BB&T Atlanta Open, it is Kudla who appears on the uptick. He has gone 14-2 since losing in French Open qualis, but the hard court season is a different beast for the 22 year told to conquer. As a pro, he has around a 56% win rate in his career on outdoor hard courts. Still, this part of the season is new to him. His best summer showing was a 2nd round loss at the U.S. Open in 2013. He will be expected to do more. For Harrison, he is hoping that Atlanta rekindles some good vibes. He has made semifinals twice in 2011 & 2013. Harrison seems like some grisled veteran because of some earlier success in his career, but let’s not forget that he is just 23. So despite appearances, we are looking at two players who are not that far removed from each other. Kudla will be 23 next month and looks like the current “it” guy for American tennis hopes. Harrison turned 23 in May, still a relative shell of the “it” guy for American tennis from a few years ago.
That makes Tuesday’s match an intriguing one. Kudla looking to cash in on the momentum wave from the grass court season, while Harrison has been out in the ocean looking to catch that wave for a couple years now. It will be meeting number three between the two, but the first on this surface and first in over two years. They last met at the Savannah clay court Challenger where Kudla won in three sets. Harrison won their 1st meeting on grass in Newport in 2010 by a 7-5, 7-6 scoreline. So what decides things on Tuesday? The weaponry isn’t terrible different for both players. Kudla probably doesn’t have the natural power that Harrison possesses in-serve and on his forehand, but his defense rates a bit better as well as his consistency from the baseline.
Kudla has looked righteous on-serve in qualis so far and will need that aspect of his game to remain solid for as long as he lasts this week. He likes to take the ball earlier on ground strokes as he’ll look to work Harrison into rallies to expose any inconsistencies in his play. Harrison would do well to find his best serve to make life easier on himself. When he does well, that part of his game seems to set the table. If you’re looking for a snapshot of how their match is going on Tuesday, check Harrison’s serve numbers. If he is able to control his 1st serve, get it in regularly and win a high percentage of points (75% or more) will have a chance to win. If he’s struggling and having to put too many second serves into play, that will play into Kudla’s hands where he can set Harrison up in rallies and capitalize.
I favor Kudla of course to take this with his confidence higher and his play more consistent. Still, don’t dimiss Ryan Harrison’s chances to pull off the minor upset in this spot. I would be surprised if he went down easy.
Kudla in 3.