- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 4, 2021

As his opponent walked off the tennis court, Denis Kudla walked to the middle of the playing surface and gave a fist pump to the crowd. The emotion came after he accomplished something that had eluded him: advancing in the Citi Open.

Kudla knocked off Feliciano Lopez in three sets 6-3, 6-7, 6-3  Tuesday to move on to the second round of the tournament for just the second time in his career.

In the past, the Citi Open wasn’t too friendly to the Arlington, Virginia, native. Kudla was winless in his first eight matches at the tournament until he earned his first singles victory in 2018. That win spurred two more, making a quarterfinal appearance three years ago.

In the last running of the tournament in 2019, Kudla dropped his first round match to Tommy Paul in straight sets.

“I think just the pressure of playing at home, wanting to play well in front of family and friends, then just kind of being result-orientated,” Kudla said of his previous struggles at the Citi Open on Tuesday. “When you start thinking like that, you usually never play well.”

This time around, it was different.

“I think a few years ago getting [the] monkey off my back, I was able to use that experience today, and I allowed myself to play free, stay in the moment, play within myself,” Kudla said. “Getting this win is definitely giving me a lot of confidence, getting past that first round at home.”

In the first set, Kudla started hot, winning the first three games before Lopez and he traded games for the rest of it. Then, Lopez crawled back into the match, alternating games in the second set, but took the tiebreak set.

Kudla found his groove again in the third set, stringing together three game wins in the middle of the frame to take control. He closed the set in dominant fashion, allowing Lopez to score only once in the game.

Before Tuesday, Kudla was winless against Lopez, a former No. 12 player in the world, falling in five sets in the first round of the 2015 Australian Open.

Kudla’s win on Tuesday was just his third victory since July 12. He advanced to the second round at Newport and Los Cabos, Mexico, before getting bounced in the first round in Atlanta last week.

“Every week’s a new week and a new opportunity,” Kudla said. “I think I’m playing well. I just need to translate how I’m playing in practice into the matches.”

Before those three tournaments, Kudla was hot on the court. The American made two runs in grass court tournaments in June — making a finals appearance at Nottingham and winning five matches at Wimbledon before falling to World No. 1 Novak Djokovic in the Round of 32.

At Nottingham, Kudla lost in the finals to Frances Tiafoe, a fellow former Junior Tennis Champions Center player in College Park.

Kudla thinks he’s found the style of play he had in June and wants to feed off of it.

“Now I feel I’m back on the track that I want to be on,” Kudla said. “Now it’s just hanging onto that momentum, that confidence and building on it.”

Kudla faced the No. 10-seeded Taylor Fritz in the second round of the tournament on Wednesday at 2 p.m. The two have met three times in the past and Kudla holds a 2-1 edge on Fritz.

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