For the second week running Mathew Ebden of Australia and Denis Kudla of the United States are set to square off in yet another grass court challenger final.
Last week’s challenger final held in Surbiton was dominated by Kudla for large portions. He was playing with an assured and controlled aggressiveness off both wings. (Forehand and backhand) Never-the-less when match-points came around, so did tightness and he was unable to close out for the title. Ebden capitalised on Kudla’s mind freeze and broke him back to take the final set into a breaker. From there it was pretty clear to see the missed match-points had flustered Kudla and began occupying the forefront of his mind. His head went AWOL and he started to play with less clarity on his shot selection. Ebden picked up on a feeling of goodness from still being in a match he really should already have lost and started playing better tennis. In the end it was Ebden who came out the victor, recording his first challenger title win of 2015.
Today, Kudla will be looking to quickly avenge that loss of last week and put the choke behind him. He will be looking to prove to himself that he has that inner character to overcome what happened to him. I imagine he’ll see this as an adversity hurdle for which can lead him to becoming a stronger character. I say this because in the past, whenever he has been dealt a poor hand he’s never folded and instead stuck in the game and made his own good luck happen.
From a technical match-up perspective, Kudla more than possesses the right minerals to combat Ebden’s scurries to the net off clever kick and slice serving. He has good whip and topspin on that forehand and defends the backhand admirably well. Kudla’s footwork is also tuned well for moving on the grass and he will be able to get down low to deal accordingly with Ebden’s slice and dice variety. Ebden’s go-to-serve when serving to advantage court is his kicker (Topspin) out-wide, however it goes directly into the Kudla backhand which is predominately his major strength. Ebden may know this and may refrain from going there too often, however on the big points most players go with their go-to-serves. There will be opportunity for Kudla to therefore hurt Ebden when returning from the AD side and particularly, as explained, on the big points.
Ebden has more success on grass compared to any other surface, not only because he is incredibly capable around the net, but because he executes such a good approach shot and that makes what he then has to do at the net, that much easier. An area of real concern though, even on grass, is when he is duelling with Kudla from the baseline. Kudla is a lot more cleaner and solid off both wings. Ebden struggles when having to defend the forehand, he seems rushed off that side and often as a result of being rushed drops the ball short. Kudla with his consistently heavy and deep ground-strokes can expose that forehand by continuously testing it out, making him rushed on it and waiting for the short ball to arrive.
I hate using the phrase/term – ‘Its on player X’s racquet’, as I often believe if the other guy adapts his strategy well enough whilst playing above his norm, there are ways of overcoming the issue of the match-up, as long as there is not a huge gap in talent and ability. In this instance however, I don’t really believe there is any way Ebden can do anything if Kudla is firing on all cylinders and also mentally tough enough to see the match through to and past the finish line.
Denis Kudla. Denis to be a menace and come through in three sets.