©Colette Lewis 2007--
Delray Beach, FL--
Last year, just a few miles down I-95, Denis Kudla captured the boys 14s Clay Court championships in Ft. Lauderdale. On Sunday, he'll play for the 16s title against top seed Tennys Sandgren. So is the 14-year-old from Virginia developing a affinity for the heat and humidity and the gritty green surface that Florida is famous for?
"Florida in July, not really," said Kudla, a 17th seed, who will turn 15 next month. "And I really don't prefer clay."
But after taking out No. 7 seed Ryan Noble of Fayetteville, North Carolina 6-2, 7-5 in Saturday morning's semifinal, Kudla could be ready to revise his opinion.
With all four semifinals being played at the same time, it was impossible to focus on any one of them, so I'll leave it to Kudla to describe how he beat Noble.
"I knew his balls weren't going very fast, but they're very low," said Kudla. "I just knew I had to get low and get a lot of topspin on my balls, get them deep and attack his shots. I ended up doing that, but in the second set my serve let me down a little bit, but I ended up winning out."
Unlike Kudla, Sandgren will be in a National Championship final for the first time on Sunday, and he credits an improved mental game for the success he's enjoyed this year.
"I haven't gotten as upset as I normally do," said the Tennesseean, a 6-0, 6-2 winner over unseeded Devin McCarthy of Ohio in the semifinals. "I'm not giving away games like I used to. I'm playing pretty good right now, and I haven't had too many tough matches."
Sandgren, who will be celebrating his 16th birthday on Sunday, is expecting a fight in the finals however.
"We've both been having a pretty good year," said Sandgren, referring to the his ITF Grade 4 win in March, his International Springs 16s title in April and Kudla's two ITF Grade 4 & 5 wins in February. "So it should be a really good match."
Although they haven't played recently, Kudla is looking for his first win over Sandgren.
"We haven't played in a year and a half," said Kudla. "This may be our third time, or fourth, I'm not sure. I haven't beaten him. He's either 2-0 or 3-0.(Having been in a Nationals final) is probably the only advantage I have over him, that experience, but it's all about who handles the nerves better."
In the 18s final, unseeded Clint Bowles and No. 6 seed Bradley Klahn will play for the national championship and a wild card into the main draw of the Delray Beach International Tennis Championships next January.
Bowles repeated his recent victory over No. 5 seed Brennan Boyajian in the Florida State Closed, again in straight sets, but the 6-3, 6-4 win was not without drama. Up a set and 5-1, Bowles saw his two-break cushion disappear.
"I wasn't focusing on the things I should have been focusing on," said Bowles, "and he came up with some good shots. He made some balls, I missed some."
With Boyajian back on serve at 4-5 30-30, his approach wasn't quite good enough and Bowles struck a clean pass to earn a match point. At 30-40, Bowles' return caught the tape; Boyajian could do nothing but watch helplessly as it trickled over the net.
"Of course I was happy," said Bowles. "Who's not happy after that? I didn't mean to, but I can't do anything about it."
Klahn quickly dispatched Joey Burkhardt, a 17 seed, 6-1 in the first set, but saw the momentum swing away from him in the second, when he fell behind 4-2. But it came back late in the third and the Californian went on to take the second set 7-5.
"The first set I came out firing," said Klahn, who will turn 17 next month. "I was going for shots. He kept the ball higher, and I just had to step in. With my legs I couldn't play a three-hour grindfest. I just want to step in and take the balls early, and that's what I did late in the second set. I got a couple of key double faults and a couple of errors that gave me the break."
The only match that Klahn and Bowles played was in the first round of the International Springs in 2006, when Bowles saved three match points in a third set tiebreaker that ended at 9-7. They don't come much closer than that and even with his 18 consecutive wins on his home state's clay this spring and summer, Bowles isn't sure he has an advantage.
"He looks great," said Bowles. "I haven't really seen him play too much, but obviously he's pretty comfortable on clay if he's in the finals. Hopefully, it'll be a good match again."
The 16s doubles final and the 18s doubles semifinal did not begin and several back draw matches in progress were disrupted when mid-afternoon thundershowers came through South Florida.
See the TennisLink site for complete draws and the revised schedule for doubles.
Saturday, July 21, 2007