Jack Sock rallies past Arlington's Denis Kudla in U.S. Open boys' final

By Liz Clarke
Washington Post Sports Writer
Sunday, September 12, 2010; 11:39 PM

FLUSHING MEADOWS, N.Y. - The last time two American teens squared off in the final of the U.S. Open junior boys' tournament, 18-year-old Andy Roddick beat 17-year-old Robby Ginepri in straight sets.

Within a few years, Roddick reached No. 1 in the world; Ginepri, No. 15. A decade later, both are earning handsome livings as professional tennis players.

Arlington's Denis Kudla and Jack Sock of Lincoln, Neb., hope a similar career path lies ahead for them and, along with it, the opportunity to revive the United States' flagging tennis fortunes.

Kudla, 18, took charge early in Sunday's U.S. Open boys' final but struggled as his serve betrayed him in the second set. Sock, 17, ratcheted up his game, pumping wicked pace into his forehand and serve, to charge back for a 3-6, 6-2, 6-2 victory at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center.

With numerous long rallies and a refreshing array of volleys, lobs and drop shots, the match was an undercard of sorts to the men's final, postponed by rain until Monday, pitting top seed Rafael Nadal, seeking to complete a career Grand Slam by winning the one major to elude him, against third-seeded Novak Djokovic.

The U.S. Open is the season's final major. And this year's boys' tournament is the last junior event for Kudla, who ages out of the classification at the end of 2010.

In reaching the final, Kudla, at 5 feet 10 a quick, undersize scrapper, improved on his previous best U.S. Open showing (the quarterfinals) and outperformed his No. 10 seeding. The same is true of the 6-2 Sock, who won the USTA boys' 18s national title and entered as a wild card.

Kudla, who trains at the Junior Tennis Champions Center in College Park, closes his junior career on a positive note, having won five matches to reach the final here, toppling the reigning French Open boys' champion along the way.

"What I'm going to take from it is probably knowing that I can compete with a lot of the top guys, even though this is still juniors," Kudla said. "But in my opinion, I think a lot of these guys are gonna be the next top pros who are going to play with each other later on. So knowing that I can play under pressure, and in a big stage, is something that I think is pretty important in the future."

The match, contested on Court 11 as dark clouds threatened, drew an attentive crowd of supporters. With both players American, neither had a home-court advantage.

Kudla broke Sock in just the third game, blasting a two-fisted backhand winner down the line. And he broke again in the fifth game by running down a lob and blasting a winner over his shoulder to cap a 23-stroke rally.

The momentum shifted in the second set.

Kudla missed groundstrokes he hadn't missed before, struggled with his first serve and didn't attack Sock's second serve. In short order, Sock started dictating play and whipping his forehand with abandon. And when Kudla came forward, Sock countered with well-struck lobs.

But for all the talent on display, it's premature to anoint either the successor to Roddick, who has bounced in and out of the top 10 since August.

U.S Davis Cup captain Patrick McEnroe, head of the USTA's Player Development Program, said in an e-mail exchange he was pleased to see two young Americans reach Sunday's final.

"]They are] guys who are hard workers," McEnroe wrote, "which is good because there is a lot of hard work ahead of them to get where we think they can be."

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