By Liz Clarke
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, September 9, 2010; 9:32 PM
FLUSHING MEADOWS, N.Y. - It was a day of firsts for Arlington's Denis Kudla, who, at 18, is competing in the U.S. Open junior boys' tournament one last time.
With a spot in the quarterfinals at stake, Kudla's third-round match against fellow American and good friend Evan King was contested at 10,103-seat Louis Armstrong Stadium, one of the more imposing venues in tennis.
That meant players could use the sport's Hawk-Eye challenge system to contest questionable line calls - a technology that isn't available on the smaller side courts to which juniors are typically assigned. It also meant that a radar gun clocked the speed of each serve and displayed the results for all to see.
Moreover, the Tennis Channel aired the match live, with none other than five-time U.S. Open champion Jimmy Connors and two-time champion Tracy Austin critiquing the teenagers' play.
Kudla's chief fear was that his first serve would be measured at an anemic 50 mph - or worse, that his second serve would be so slow it would fail to trigger the radar gun at all.
The anxiety was unfounded, as Kudla advanced to the quarterfinals, matching his achievement of last year, with a 6-7 (7-5), 7-5, 6-4 victory over King, who earned Big Ten Freshman of the Year honors last season at Michigan.
Later, Annandale's Mitchell Frank, 17, who has trained with Kudla since childhood at the Junior Tennis Champions Center in College Park, fell to No. 2 seed Marton Fucsovics of Hungary, 6-4, 6-1. In reaching the third round, Frank improved his showing from last year, when he lost in the first round.
In the junior girls' tournament, wild card Robin Anderson of Matewan, N.J., who trained this summer at the College Park center, upset eighth-seed Laura Robson of Britain, 6-3, 6-2.
It was the fourth time in as many matches that Kudla lost his opening set (in this case, despite taking a 4-0 lead in the tiebreak) but rallied for the victory.
On this day, there were complicating factors at play: the fact that King is a good friend and teammate on the U.S. Junior Davis Cup team, for one, and the gusting wind.
"I tried not to miss because it was windy," Kudla said, asked about the long rallies, at least until he started forcing the action by coming to net. "But [King] was doing the same thing and staying with. So I thought, 'I have to do something else! I actually have to win these points!' The only way I could figure it out, instead of hitting 500 balls down the middle, was come to the net and try to finish. Luckily I volleyed well today, and it helped me."
Connors praised the 5-foot-10 Kudla each time he seized the initiative and came to net and chided him when he hung behind the baseline and traded endless groundstrokes.
"Now that was a smart play!" Connors exulted after Kudla drove an approach shot deep and followed with a crisp volley into the open court.
Kudla, who turned pro at 17, said he felt he was playing better in this year's tournament because he wasn't putting as much pressure on himself as he had in years past. He reached as high as No. 3 earlier this year; in the pro rankings, he's 611th.