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Saturday, December 13, 2008

American Denis Kudla captures Orange Bowl Tennis Championships title

Denis Kudla became the first American to captured the boys' 16s event since 2003

For Denis Kudla, winning his draw at the 62nd annual Dunlop Orange Bowl International Tennis Championships was as sweet as it gets.

Playing in an early match at the Crandon Park Tennis Center in Key Biscayne on Saturday, not only was Kudla trying to avenge coming up short the previous ''six or seven times'' he has played in the tournament, but he also was going up against his friend on the tennis court, Mitchell Frank.

But Kudla, a 16-year-old from Arlington, Va., showed no mercy, dominating his buddy 6-0, 6-2 to capture the boys' 16s.

''I think it's a battle of nerves when we play each other,'' Kudla said. ``It's all about who's the most ready.

``It wasn't an easy match, but definitely everything was going right for me, and I think I handled my nerves well.''

Kudla was the No. 1 seed in his draw and came in ranked 70th in the ITF World Junior rankings.

He could have easily played in the boys' 18s -- and would have received points toward his ITF rankings because of it -- but Kudla's coaches thought it was best that he learn how to play with added pressure.

Looks like he passed the test.

Now, Kudla joins a famous list of past champions that includes Roger Federer, who won the 18s the first year the event was held at Crandon Park in 1998, and Andy Roddick, who took the prize the following year.

''Throughout the tournament, I kept getting better and better, and, in the finals, everything was going my way,'' Kudla said. ``Some of the greats have won this tournament, which makes it even more special.''


Easily the most compelling matchup of the day came in deciding the girls' 16s champion.

Fourteen-year-old Chanelle Van Nguyen of Miami went up 5-2 in the potential second-set clincher, only to see Madison Keys of Boca Raton battle back to tie it after five match points.

Then, after the two went back and forth in the third set, Van Nguyen won 6-3, 5-7, 6-4.

The victory concluded a match that drew a large crowd toward the end of the afternoon and lasted a little more than 2 ½ hours.

''I was actually cramping [in the third set],'' said Van Nguyen, who lost in the first round last year. ``But I tried my best and pulled it off.''


In terms of junior events, the Dunlop Orange Bowl is up there with the U.S. Open as a top tournament in the United States.

And 2008 saw it make some history.

This year, not only was Kudla the first American boy to win the 16s title since 2003, but it also marked the first time since 1970 that only Americans claimed the championship and runner-up spots in the boys' and girls' 16s.

''I think the critics that say American tennis is down aren't really watching the juniors right now because we have a lot of really good juniors that are on the rise,'' said Lew Brewer, director of junior competition for the USTA.

With the boys' and girls' 16s out of the way, Sunday's finale of the seven-day tournament will decide the champions of the boys' and girls' 18s.

For the boys, Jarmere Jenkins (18, College Park, Ga.) will be facing Yuki Bhambri (17, India). The girls' 18s will pin Christina McHale (16, Englewood Cliffs, N.J.) against Sloane Stephens (15, Lauderhill).

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