Asked to guess the speed, Kudla said, “They were numbers I didn’t want to see.”
As Groth unloaded, Kudla varied the pace, deliberating hitting softer to coax errors from the Aussie.
“Smart shot,” Vladimir said when Kudla tried a lob that sailed just long. “A good idea.”
As the match unfolded, Kudla’s rooting section in the stands expanded.
It included John Callahan, 56, who lived on the same cul de sac when the Kudlas lived in Fairfax. For years he endured the “Thwack! Thwack!” of tennis balls bouncing off the plywood that Denis tacked to the family garage. It invariably started up just as Callahan returned from his early shift and laid down for a nap.
“The whole neighborhood heard it!’ Callahan said with a chuckle. He sported a Lacoste shirt, along with Denis Kudla, who’s sponsored by the company, and every other Kudla on the grounds.
The extended family also included Frank Salazar, the JTCC coach who developed him. It included friends from Arlington, strangers who knew only that he was an American and others who simply felt that the combustible Groth, who flung his racket in disgust after one double fault, simply wasn’t as likable.
The first set, settled by a tiebreak, turned on a single point.
After Kudla was broken for the first time in the match early in the second set, things unraveled quickly.
“What is the point to play tennis in front of people?” Vladimir mused as his son stepped up to serve, trailing 2-4. “The drama. You cannot save your kid from that. You cannot save your kid from being upset, or even from being humiliated.
“If that’s what your kid wants to do, you just keep quiet. He’ll figure it out.
Kudla was broken again, which put the match in the Aussie’s hands.
Groth served out the victory and unleashed a triumphant roar as the Kudlas looked on.
A man they didn’t know came over. “You have a terrific son!” he said.
He was followed by another. “He’s doing just fine,” the man offered with a smile.
Said Vladimir: “You decide you want to be a professional tennis player, pain follows. My heart is bleeding. But he’ll figure it out.”