The last time Denis Kudla made it past the first round at the Citi Open, he advanced to the quarterfinals in 2018. This year is no different as the Arlington, Virginia, native punched his ticket to the round for the second time.
Kudla knocked off Brandon Nakashima, a former University of Virginia standout, in three sets — 3-6, 7-6 (3), 6-4 — on Thursday to advance to the quarterfinals.
It was the first time the two played each other in a tournament, but Kudla and Nakashima are friends and have practiced together in the past.
“Feels weird that that was the first time that we played,” Kudla said. “I feel like we practice every single week. We are pretty close in the locker room, joke around all the time.”
This week is the first week that Kudla has won three matches in a tournament since Wimbledon, where he won five matches before falling to World No. 1 Novak Djokovic in the Round of 32.
In his last three tournaments, Kudla won two matches, but dropped three including his opening match against Christopher O’Donnell in Atlanta last week.
“Confidence is pretty high right now ever since the grass court season,” Kudla said. “Kind of a little bit of a letdown from Newport, Los Cabos, Atlanta, but I’m glad I’m able to capitalize on the opportunity that I have right now.”
Against Nakashima, Kudla said he was waiting for the 20-year-old’s legs to get tired during the match.
“His legs kind of gave out at the end. He‘s played so many matches back to back to back to back and kind of a new territory, so the stress that comes along with that isn’t easy to deal with.”
In the second set tie break, Kudla outscored Nakashima 7-3 and closed the door with a two game lead in the third set.
With his hometown just over the Potomac River, Kudla said playing at the Citi Open in the past and having the familiarity of Rock Creek Tennis Center has been key during his run.
“Playing well at home is I think every player’s dream, for sure,” Kudla said. “This is probably the most comfortable I have ever felt here. I don’t feel like my nerves are through the roof.”
Kudla said having his family and friends in the stands has also helped this week, especially with the stress of playing in a tournament.
“It’s kept me pretty light-hearted,” Kudla said. “I can already put a bunch of pressure on myself naturally, and my friends and family are able to kind of take it off me and allow me to play well and swing free.”
The win over Nakashima will vault Kudla back into the top 100 in the world for the first time since July 2019, when he was No. 98.
If Kudla wins on Friday, it will be the first time he made it past the quarterfinals in a tournament this year since Nottingham in early June when he lost to Frances Tiafoe in the finals.
Kudla awaits the winner of Ilya Ivashka and Mackenzie McDonald for Friday’s quarterfinal match, neither of whom he’s played against in a tournament.