Kudla's Cary Coronation: "This Is The First Step To Get To The Top 30 And Higher"
American returns to the ATP Challenger Tour winners' circle in Cary
Denis Kudla just keeps winning... on and off the court.
One month ago, the 28-year-old tied the knot. In front of friends and family, Kudla wed his longtime girlfriend in South Carolina. And on Sunday, the American celebrated a successful return to the court with a long-awaited title at the Atlantic Tire Championships in Cary, North Carolina.
When Andy Murray defeated Rafael Nadal in the final of the 2015 Mutua Madrid Open, the former World No. 1 wrote on the camera lens "Marriage Works". On Sunday, Kudla echoed that sentiment. Undefeated as a married man, he battled back from a set down in both the semis and final to lift the trophy, culminating with a 3-6, 6-3, 6-0 win over Prajnesh Gunneswaran in the championship.
Kudla's seventh ATP Challenger Tour title - and first since 2018 - marks a rebirth for the former Top 100 star. Following a defeat in the first round of qualifying at Roland Garros, the Virginia native says he pressed the reset button. Armed with a hungrier and more determined approach, Kudla admits that he wants to eventually hang up his racquet with no regrets.
In professional tennis, the difference is in the details. The former World No. 53 knows what it takes to bring his career to the next level. As he explains, it's all about consistent execution and never being satisfied. With new coach Robert Lindstedt in his corner, the World No. 114 is targeting the Top 30 as a primary goal. His new journey began in Cary.
Kudla spoke with broadcaster Mike Cation following the match...
When you got to the deciding set in both the semi-finals and final, I noticed that you took it to a completely different level. That must make this feel even more special.
Absolutely. After the French Open, I needed to take a step back and look in the mirror. I wanted to tell myself that at the end of my career I'd have no regrets, but I felt like I couldn't say that. This is my first step to get to the Top 30 and even higher. It's a mindset right now and I'm ready to put in all the work in these matches. I worked so hard these last few weeks and with the right intentions and discipline. It allowed me to play free and take it to the next level and really believe in myself.
This week, I applied pressure on these guys. They felt it. It could have gone the other way in the deciding set, but that's a big part of the Challengers. It's that little difference of what gets players in the ATP Tour events and what keeps them here. It's all about the semis and finals and how you perform. I was able to take it a step further. I took my chances and that's what is important.
You just started working with Robert Lindstedt a couple weeks ago. How do you approach a new partnership like that as you're starting a new tournament?
I had talked with Rob before and I told him exactly what I wanted personally. I didn't just call him and say, 'Hey, do you want to coach me?'. I told him that I want accountability. I want hard work. I need someone on me all the time. That's just how I operate. I operate well under stress and people who push me the extra mile.
I know I can do it. If I have someone there who does that, the hard work will pay off. It's just continuously doing it. I have struggled in my career being consistent and I would get satisfied when things are going well. This week, I think I came into the net more than I have in my whole career. That's something that's a huge change and a different dynamic that puts even more pressure on guys and I'm just able to succeed at it very quickly.
In the final, it was so different from how it was the rest of the week. With the wind, you really had to make adjustments right from the beginning. What clicked for you?
When the wind is in your face, the drop shot has to be used. You can abuse it and get away with it a lot. He was hitting the ball so hard and I just didn't have the opportunity. But once he took the gas off and I was able to see that, I was thinking that it was there for me. That allowed me to free up everywhere else. I knew I had to take care of my serve more. In the beginning, I was thinking too much about the wind. But then I freed up and forced him to pull the trigger. That happened yesterday too. I was a little more antsy, but once I calmed down and revved that engine up in the second or third, I was able to steamroll a little bit.
You mentioned maintaining that consistency week-to-week. How hard is it, especially after lifting a trophy? To go from that high to then playing a first round again.
It is so difficult and especially this week, no one is in a rhythm. A few guys that came from Europe maybe were, but no one really had a target on their back. But now I won a Challenger and there's a target on my back. Guys will play better against me and I have to expect that. I learned that from experience. The better you play, the better others will play against you. I need to handle it and become the problem solver. I need to become proactive and not reactive. I'm ready for it.
Fitness is the key and the body definitely hurts more now than when I was 20. Taking care of the body and details is important to me. Staying super fit and keeping the right mindset, while eating better is important. That's the key. I can't force wins either. When you win, you often expect to win again. But you can expect the best from yourself, but that does not guarantee a win. I told myself at the beginning of the year that if I lose, it won't be because I combust. They have to earn it. If I do that more times than not, I will come away with the win.
Obviously it's a very difficult time for everyone with the pandemic. What are your impressions of Cary and how they handled things in bringing tennis back to the U.S.?
I think they led by example here. This is how a tournament should be run. It didn't feel out of the ordinary. I didn't feel that I had to cut corners with my routine and I was able to go about my business. I just feel so comfortable in any tournament that is in the south. The hospitality was great and everything from getting the racquets strung on time to the COVID protocols, they nailed it. I was really happy to be here.