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Jack Socks Kudla 09/12/2010 - 7:25 PM


[As you all know, the U.S. Open men's singles final was rained out today, for the third year in a row. I think it's God's way of telling the USTA to cut out this Super Saturday nonsense. . . So Novak Djokovic gets an enormous break, or at least a fair shake. He'll now have the customary day of rest between that brutal, draining semifinal he played against Roger Federer. And Rafael Nadal, his quest for a career Grand Slam postponed for a day, must be thinking, "I never thought it would be this complicated. . ." More thoughts on the final (it will begin at 4 P.M. tomorrow afternoon) in the morning. Meanwhile, here's a report on the boys' (18-and-under) final, which was completed earlier today. - PB]

by Pete Bodo

Shortly after I settled into my seat on Court 11 at the National Tennis Center, where the U.S. Open boys' final was already underway, my pal Jane (most of you know her simply as JB) remarked: "You've got to like a kid who isnt afraid to serve and volley a deuce point."

She was talking about Denis Kudla, seeded No. 10, who had already won the first set over unseeded Jack Sock. Jane and Susan (known hereabouts as lpb) were self-described "sad pandas" owing to Roger Federer's demise, but the kids they watched were doing a pretty good job of cheering them up, even if it was inadvertently.

Both young Americans play fetching tennis and have many of the tools available to their older idols. Both of them used the court well, forever trying to find an opening, and answered every question put to them on this bleak, overcast day with an appropriate response. Or at least the response that a tennis purist or asthete would appreciate. Not once did I think, This kid doesn't have that shot. . .

The distinguishing feature of many junior matches these days is unrelenting ball-bashing, a sullen if dangerous and effective determination to simply out-hit and outsteady an opponent. Actually, it's been like that for a few decades now. But Sock and, to an even greater degree Kudla, could be described as "classic" hard court players, perhaps even throwbacks. Is that a good thing?

Both kids used the whole court, and employed the approach shot, volley, and drop shot as freely as the battlefield conditions allowed. Tactially, these kids are mature. Sock, a tall and soon-to-be rugged lad, is a slightly more contemporary player who likes to load the ball up with topspin. Kudla also hits over the ball more often than not, but he's more inclined to force the action, probing at the sidelines or exploring the angles as he looks for an opportunity to atttack.

I couldn't help feeling slightly retro watching these kids; it could have been Bob Lutz and Dick Stockton out there, working out points rather than planting their feet at the service notch to trade roundhouse punches. Both boys belted the ball with impressive pace and their games dovetailed so nicely that it might have created an inflated sense of the proficiency on display, because know that some guys have a great talent for making each other look good.

But even if that was the case, it sure was fun to watch, and even to fantasize about one or both kids making a mark in the pro game. There was no radar gun to record service speed (I asked the kids after the match, and both of them cited 120 MPH as a good number for when they're serving well, if not spectacularly). I had to wonder, What if a guy like, say, Eduardo Schwank replaced one of them for a few games. Would the kid who stayed look as good? Let's face it, a close stock car race with both vehicles doing 80 looks awfully good, but banging bumpers at 140 mph is a whole other matter.

We had one clue about how these tadpoles might fare in the big pond. Sock had played the main draw with a wild card. Urban legend has it that the Bryan brothers, video recorder in hand, caught up with Sock right before his first-round main draw match with Marco Chiudinelli and asked him where he was going.

"I'm going out to get my ass kicked," he replied brightly, before sprinting off to his doom.

Looking back on the experience today, he said: "He (Chiudinelli) is obviously 60-something in the world for a reason. . . He's a veteran, he's just a little more physical than I am and knows a little bit more about really what he's doing, I guess."

F I like the kid's style. I also like his one-two punch of big serve and topspin forehand, although emphasizing those qualities undersells his basic versatility. And I especially like how Sock seemed to get stronger as the match wore on.

Kudla, by contrast, started strong but weakened over the long run—not an uncommon thing for an attack-minded player. "When I'm playing well, I like to move forward. It's something I want to make consistent in my game. I think if I keep doing it, it can take me into the top level."

By the start of the third set, Kudla was donating errors freely, and he appeared to lose confidence. He failed to capitalize adequately on those occasions when Sock lost his range and left balls short, the result of which was Sock leaving fewer balls short. That's what happens when you do things that can make the other guy look better than he himself can. The next thing you know—presto!—he's a monster!

The critical break occured with Sock serving to keep his one-break advantage, at 3-2. Kudla put him under pressure, and held a break point at 30-40. The ensuing point was a beauty at both ends, drawing on a pretty elaborate combination of shots, including a get that found Kudla up near the net with Sock well behind the baseline.

Sock lofted a desperate but fast-moving lob, Kudla appeared ready to leap for the overhead—and froze. He later said: "I didn't expect it to be that good. I knew when it was going up chances of it going in were pretty high. I was hoping something would go wrong, or it would go out. I let it go. It's the best shot he could have hit."

Deuce. Two swings of the racket later, Sock was home free at 4-2, and a dispirited Kudla never won another game.

It's hard to call how the game of either of these kids, in a few years time, might hold up against the ATP rank-and-file. But it seemed enough today to know that they had shocked a field loaded with nominally better players, and that they have a nice, nuanced grasp of the game. For two-plus sets they put on a nice show and played pretty tennis—a gift to any Roger Federer fan in mourning.

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Posted by Papo (Got Nadal?) 09/12/2010 at 07:28 PM

Well, at least one final got played and completed today.

Posted by Papo (Got Nadal?) 09/12/2010 at 07:34 PM

Congratulations to both players for reaching the final and to Sock for winning.

Posted by Diane 09/12/2010 at 08:02 PM


Susan and Jb, you were in good company

Great ladies that I really enjoyed meeting last Sun. in NYC

Oh and of course enjoyed meeting you also!!!

Posted by skip1515 09/12/2010 at 08:16 PM

Pete, I thought the same things about Ryan Harrison's game; a good variety of arrows in the quiver. It bodes well for American men's tennis. (Lutz and Stockton. ! Very good. Really cranked up the Wayback Machine.)

Posted by tina ( GLOATING in the "Đ-block") 09/12/2010 at 08:31 PM

The Junior matches are one of my favorite things about attending Slams - I skulk around like I'm an agent sniffing out new blood, though in reality I'm nothing of the sort. But I do have a pretty good record of spotting talent before they get to the Tour - Medvedev and Kafelnikov on separate continents.

This year I only got to watch a live stream of Jack Sock v. Damir Džumhur of Sarajevo. And if I take the plunge and head out to Flushing tomorrow, it's too late for any of the kids.

But I was impressed with what I saw of Jack Sock. Glad he cheered up the sad pandas.

Posted by Nitin 09/12/2010 at 11:10 PM

Well he goes to my school(Sock), its cool to hit with him when he played on the Tennis team, I kind of knew he would win the Juniors.

Posted by Charles 09/13/2010 at 12:14 AM

Is sock the next great american hope? he has the size to do it

Posted by Denise 09/13/2010 at 04:09 AM

Would have loved to have seen the junior final but its not available on international TV.
I had the pleasure to meet and watch Denis Kudla play when he came to the Liverpool International Tennis Tournament this year. As he admitted his first time on grass - a whole new experience and one which he coped with very well.
I felt then that he has a future and was pleased to see him do so well in the Junior tournament in New York. Don't know anything of Jack Sock but will be watching out for both of them in the future.
Good luck to them for the future.

Posted by Lorenzo 09/13/2010 at 05:10 AM

I watched the match on the internet, I'm sorry Peter! In my opinion none of these two guys is ATP top 20 material! Just like Ryan Harrison, Melanie Oudin and Beatrice Capra aren't. I understand that American tennis is going through its darkest era and the media and fans are hungry for the next great hope, but sometimes it seems you guys get a little too carried away. When a player wins a couple of random matches, some big titles come out with "the next big thing". Apparently you guys can not cope with the fact that tennis is not a British/American/Australian sport anymore, it's a GLOBAL sport. It's not baseball, basketball or American football, where you guys can grow champions and stars in your own bubble. Start sending your junior players to play challenger tournaments in Kazakhstan instead of spoiling them at the academies or with pathetic wild card junior tournaments and you'll grow some champions again.

Posted by Samantha Elin, Caro believe!. 09/13/2010 at 06:30 AM

Lorenzo, didn't watch the match, but would agree that the players you name, Harrison, Oudin and Capra aren't top 20. Agree that there is a tendency for "the next big thing" to come when an American wins a few matches. I think in time that American tennis will produce better player, It's just right now, none are on the horizon.

Posted by princepro110 09/13/2010 at 06:57 AM

If this is Lutz and Stockton of the future.............thats nothing to look forward to! Who but a 60 year old tennis junkie could even tell you their former profession!

Posted by Samantha Elin 09/13/2010 at 07:51 AM

Princepro 110, did anyone ever tell you that is it Ok to disagree with a blog, or an article but to do it in a respectful way?

Posted by skip1515 09/13/2010 at 08:10 AM

"Who but a 60 year old tennis junkie could even tell you their former profession!"

A 56 year old tennis junkie, for one.

And besides, what's your point? If I read something and don't understand a reference, it behooves me to look it up, not take the writer to task for thinking I know more than I do.

(And yes, I wrote "behooves".)

Posted by Pspace 09/13/2010 at 08:48 AM

How can you not like a guy called Jack Sock!

Posted by Lorenzo 09/13/2010 at 09:22 AM

I'm sorry, I forgot to mention in my previous post that I'm writing from Switzerland. Greetings from Central Europe.

Posted by JB (FOOPs unite!) 09/13/2010 at 09:25 AM

lol pspace. i thought the same thing about Jack!

But seriously, these guys were fun to watch. and for heavens sake, they're KIDS. they're just starting out. to dismiss them already as 'never amounting to anything' is awfully premature, imo. If they become top 50, it means there are only 49 people in the PLANET that are better than they are at their chosen sport. I guess I'm not that dismissive about players' accomplishments in what I consider to be a fairly difficult sport.

They were just fun; they had variety in their games and tried to employ it well. At the moment, they are heartbreakingly young, and I for one am willing to watch them play, let them continue to grow and improve and see what they can bring to the 'big kids' table in a few years. It could be interesting.

Posted by adicecream 09/13/2010 at 10:53 AM

JB, you are so right!! Not everyone matures like Nadal did. Give the kids a chance and let them show us what they can do in their own time.

Posted by Tom in Smalltown 09/13/2010 at 11:06 AM

I'm sure tennis fans in every country look for the next big-time player. That provencialistic quirk of nature doesn't just belong to American tennis fans. Those of us who criticize our own efforts to find that next big player take each another's contribution to the debate to heart. When the middle of Europe has something to offer, we'll probably listen. But we'll throw out the tired anti-American cliches. In the end, time will tell.

Posted by ethiopianpharaoh7 09/13/2010 at 11:26 AM


Posted by Sarah 09/13/2010 at 11:46 AM

I'm not sure what this comment means:

"Apparently you guys can not cope with the fact that tennis is not a British/American/Australian sport anymore, it's a GLOBAL sport. It's not baseball, basketball or American football, where you guys can grow champions and stars in your own bubble. Start sending your junior players to play challenger tournaments in Kazakhstan instead of spoiling them at the academies or with pathetic wild card junior tournaments and you'll grow some champions again."

Some NBA basketball players -- not even first tier team either -- just won the FIBA worlds. So apparently people *can* compete on the world stage when they are grown in our "own bubble." Not that I want tennis players to be grown in a "bubble" -- but I don't even understand the comment.

We just had someone win the US Open Juniors with world class opponents who wasn't even seeded.

Doesn't mean he'll be top 20 by any means.

But the above comment just doesn't make sense. Is it saying "you should grow players in a home bubble"? Or you shouldn't? Or it doesn't matter either way? NBA players = grown in bubble. Won FIBA worlds.

Tennis players =/ not grown in bubble.


I don't get it other than just a comment meant to somehow trample on an American's [Bodo's] hope that maybe we'll have a nice tennis player.

I'm sorry that we don't have top ranked US tennis players any more. But arguably we had even *MORE* bubble-grown players in Sampras, Agassi, and Courier than today.

I hope we grow some good players -- naturally any one would in our country hope that. But right now I'm very very satisfied too in watching some great players -- particularly Fed and Nadal. This is a fascinating time to be a tennis fan and I feel fortunate. Maybe some day Americans will have a few to throw into the mix -- whether "grown in a bubble" or not.

Posted by CL/AtheGOAT 09/13/2010 at 11:52 AM

JB - absolutely - it is preposterous to write off these two kids so early and the 'connection' that some people see between inevitable hype/hope for USA tennis and what actually happens to young players is equally preposterous. Gee, it is almost as if some people WANT to see them fail, just because they have the misfortune to be cannon fodder for the US-centric hype machine. Not. Their. Fault.

I saw Jack Sock interviewed on ESPN. He was pleasant, reasonably articulate for one so young and looking forward to both enjoying his win and going back to school. He also got to warm up Novak Djokovic before the semi...and WOULD have gotten to warm up Fed, but the Djokovic camp called first.

Sock Rocks!

Posted by beth 09/13/2010 at 12:02 PM

I enjoyed reading this, Pete . Glad to hear about two great kids with potential for the future. This kid , Jack Sock , sounds like a real cutie .Got to laugh at his comment about his main draw match :)
jb , and susan -so glad you two "sad pandas" saw something that cheered you up

and yes, give the kids a break . They may turn out to be real first class slam champions or they may not . They may not even cho0se - or get the chance - to play pro tennis . But whatever their destiny - they are young - so young . Give them a chance to try things before we place the burden of the world on them . Let them have some fun .
And it sure sounds like playing this event - and making the finals was fun !

Posted by JB (Let them have fun!!) 09/13/2010 at 12:21 PM

*waves at beth* it was really fun, and actually - the boys juniors were very entertaining. I dragged lpb(susan) there first thing; of course we were the first ones on the seats behind the baseline, they were still drying the courts! (The machines are hailishly LOUD..) So we saw the entire match. Kudla had a really nice clean game, lots of variety, strong 2 handed backhand and an awfully good one-handed slice. He just seemed to run out of steam, and Socks just put his head down and kept at it, he seemed to actually get stronger and more focused as the match went on. But I loved that neither player was afraid to come in to net, and by an large, they were pretty effective there. Some nice volley drills with both there and won on winners, not errors out or into the net. I liked that too.

in general, I was really impressed with some of the new kids I got a chance to see, ryan harrison, Ricardis Berankis (really really fun game, if he'd only GROW a couple inches taller!) and Pete Luczak come to mind.

like tina, i've really started to make a concerted effort to look at the youngsters, see if I can find a some fun youngun's to adopt. my usual crowd is getting a wee bit oldish, shall we say.. :)

Posted by Globe&Mail 09/13/2010 at 12:56 PM

Tom in Smalltown @ 11:06

Spot on. What country has a stable of sure-things? Does country even matter that much?

It's fun to speculate and that's all there is to it.

The next Fed or Nadal could come from anywhere, and the current list consists of "none of the above".

Posted by Miles 09/13/2010 at 02:06 PM

This is actually a reply to the last question by Bodo in the 5 final questions. I don't think Nadal can truly claim to be the GOAT when he only has 9 GS (Yes, I'm counting the US Open already). Yes, he has achieved all these things at the young age of 24, but I think consistency and longetivity is an important element. It is easier to achieve these things in an amazing run, but if you look at Federer and Agassi, it is harder to sustain that level of tennis in the long run. Ask any athlete and they will tell you maintaining a high level day-in and day-out is more difficult than you can imagine. If Nadal can dominate the tennis world for 2 or 3 more years and win 5-7 more GS, then we can start talking about the GOAT debate.

Posted by JB (Let them have fun!!) 09/13/2010 at 02:12 PM

25 comments into a post on 2 american juniors, kudra and socks and ding ding ding!

we have rafa is the goat!

poor zombie ponies.....

*wanders off*

Posted by Mrs. Edgewood Cheesewater 09/13/2010 at 03:54 PM

There is a terriffic young player from Quasiland named Wafto Weefie.

Someday he will win the US Open.

Posted by temes 09/13/2010 at 05:42 PM

I wish my name was Jack Sock.

Posted by George Costanza 09/13/2010 at 06:26 PM

My cousin lives in a bubble.

Posted by Calum. 09/13/2010 at 06:34 PM

Top drawer stuff from Mr Sock.

Posted by Roddick fan from Virginia 09/13/2010 at 07:05 PM

While I have no idea whether either one of these two young men will ever be top twenty, I will gladly watch their career unfold with hope for the best.

Posted by evangelyst 09/13/2010 at 07:29 PM


How would you rate Sock and Kudla vs past champions like Tomic and Dimitrov or even Wimbledon champ Fucsovics?

I would not write off any of these boys off as not top 20 material... its too early to say - case in point John Isner. When he was a teen who would have predicted him being a top 20 player? Other players (like Soderling, Davydenko, Simon etc.) improve their games to such an extent that they move up, sometimes even to the top 10 in their mid 20s.

Posted by Mike 09/13/2010 at 10:30 PM

I think that nobody has any clue who is going to make it and who isn't. I mean Sam Querry never made it to any grand slam final in anything and is now in the top 20. I Played in nationals with Andy Roddick and never thought he would make it and he did. How about John Isner--he didn't even win the NCAA's the year before going pro. Mardy Fish never won any big tournaments in the juniors at all. Then you have Michael Chang and plenty of other that have won tons in the Juniors and been top 10 in the world i.e. roger federer, nadal. You never know what will happen.

Posted by John 09/14/2010 at 10:42 PM

Lorenzo, What are you talking about? Harrison just turned 18. He beats the #17 guy in the world in the 1st rd. of the U.S. Open after going thru qualies and then has 3 match points against the no. 35 guy in the world in the 5th set tiebreak before losing. Clearly he is already playing at that level. To say he doesnt have a chance is silly. Hes the highest ranked teenager in the world in the top 200. If he doesnt have a chance tell us who does.

Posted by Matt 09/16/2010 at 11:10 AM

Jack Sock has potential, Ryan Harrison has potential, Denis Kudla has potential, Potential- Having possibility, capability, or power. Provent the capability.. This is something that anybody can't predict. History can repeat itself, or sometimes when young men in this case put themselves on the line to train, compete, and work hard good things happen, Great thing about it we get the opportunity to see it happen and the young men get the opportunity they have put themselves in to earn the right to compete. So let them compete. Jack Sock won the Junior Us Open!! Who's Next????

Posted by Danknasty 09/16/2010 at 11:29 AM

@john......Totally agreed at the moment ryan is by far the best looking teen out on the tour, not saying he will be a long term high quality player but he has a better chance than anyone else we see out there at the moment....and also Sock is the tits, strait up

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