Tomorrow is the first day of action at the U.S. Men’s Clay Court Championships in Houston and we already have a great slate of matches including the second on Center which sees fifth seed Fernando Verdasco from Spain do battle with home favourite qualifier Denis Kudla. The favourite to go through to the second round is Verdasco but only by a reasonably tight margin.
It has been an average start to the year from Fernando Verdasco as he has only posted a really good result on the clay but outside of that, it has been a bit underwhelming. At the Australian Open, he took a very surprising second-round loss to Maxmillian Marterer in five sets. He then played some events on the South American clay swing as he lost in Buenos Aires to home favourite Guido Pella in the second round before going on a run to the final of the Rio Open with wins over Fabio Fognini and Dominic Thiem before falling to Diego Schwartzman. His final preparation for the sunshine double was in Acapulco and he fell in the first round to Diego Schwartzman, which was Verdasco’s second loss to him in as many weeks. At the sunshine double itself, he got good results but nothing outstanding with a third round loss at the BNP Paribas Open to Taylor Fritz and then a fourth-round loss at the Miami Open to Pablo Carreno Busta. So far this season, Denis Kudla has played a variety of challenges and tour-level events with his February and March having almost no weeks off. He started February with a second-round loss at a San Fransisco challenger event and then he went to Acapulco and lost in the second round of qualifying to Cameron Norrie. It did not get much better at the BNP Paribas Open as he went out in the first round qualifying to Matteo Berrettini. He played a challenger in Drummondville before Miami and he would have got a lot of confidence there as he managed to take the title but it did not carry through to the Miami Open, where he lost in the qualifying second round to Calvin Hemery. Before coming to Houston he reached another final of the challenger, this time in Le Gosier, and then made it through both his qualifying rounds here in straight sets. I have to give the edge in terms of confidence to Verdasco because he has played so much more at a main draw ATP level.
Fernando Verdasco has played this event five times before with his average result being the quarterfinals so he has clearly achieved good results here in the past. His best performance at this event came in 2014 when he managed to lift the champions trophy after a great week that saw him get wins over Donald Young, Nicolas Almagro and Steve Johnson to claim his twelfth career title. His worst result is the second round and he has fallen at that stage twice with the first time coming on his debut at the event in 2013 when he fell to Ruben Ramirez Hidalgo and then more recently he fell at that stage to Marcos Baghdatis in 2016. Denis Kudla has also played this event five times in his career but his average result is only the first round so he has clearly never reached the heights of Verdasco here. Kudla’s best result came in 2016 when he managed to reach the second round before falling to his countryman John Isner. His worst result is the first round of qualifying and he fell at that stage on his debut in 2011 when he was just eighteen years old and fell to another countryman Tim Symczek. The edge in this area clearly has to go to Verdasco seeing that his worst result here is Kudla’s best result here.
Head to Head Record
Fernando Verdasco and Denis Kudla have played each other once before on the ATP World Tour with the meeting coming on a hard court and Verdasco coming out as the winner. That meeting came at the 2015 Stockholm Open and it was Verdasco who took the first round clash 6-4, 6-4. This is an interesting clash as both of these men love faster courts and have a similar game style of being aggressive from the baseline so this probably came down to who was making fewer errors and, on the day, that was obviously Verdasco. Another thing that would give the Spaniard comfort about this upcoming match is that his game probably translates better to the clay so that is why I have to give him the edge in terms of the match-up.
Even though all the data in this match is pointing towards Fernando Verdasco winning rather comfortably, I still think that he will struggle with his first clay match in a while and Denis Kudla will be hungry for the win considering this is the first main draw he has qualified for in a while. I think that out of the blocks, Verdasco might be a bit slow as he gets used to the competitive environment on a clay again but Kudla already has those qualifying matches so he will feel right at home and I see him taking a break lead. I think that as Kudla gets closer to the set, Verdasco will make a late push to break back before forcing a tiebreaker and then I see him having all the momentum and taking the breaker 7-6(7-2). I think that Verdasco will be able to carry out that momentum into the second set and take an early break but eventually, Kudla will be able to ground himself and fight back to level the score at about 3-3 or 4-4. From there, I see the men exchanging holds until a tiebreaker is forced and the experience of Verdasco will show in such a pressure situation and he will take it 7-6(7-2), 7-6(7-3).