With two matches going down to a final set tie-break, the opening round of qualifying for the Fayez Sarofim & Co. U.S. Men's Clay Court Championship had plenty of tense moments Saturday at River Oaks.
Japan’s Yoshihito Nishioka earned the biggest upset on the day with a win over No. 1 seed and former top-ranked TCU Horned Frog Cameron Norrie. Nishioka tore his ACL at the 2017 Miami Open soon after reaching a career-high rank of No. 58 in the world. The 22-year-old qualifying wild card is playing just his eighth tournament back after knee surgery last year.
He'll next face Bradley Klahn, a 2010 NCAA singles champion at Stanford, who battled to a 7-6(7) 4-6 7-6(4) win over former Georgia Tech standout Christopher Eubanks.
Denis Kudla notched his first win in three tries over fellow American Reilly Opelka. After falling outside the top 200 last fall, the Virginian credits improved fitness and a newfound love of the game for his recent success. Playing in Houston for sixth time, the 25-year-old feels comfortable on the River Oaks clay.
“I like Houston a lot, and it’s an awesome place to play,” Kudla said. “I’ve managed to play really well here, so that’s awesome. There’s no time for getting upset and letting matches slip away.”
Kudla will next meet Fort Worth resident Mitchell Krueger, with whom he currently shares a coach, Dustin Taylor. Krueger advanced with a 7-5 6-3 win over Darian King.
In a battle of former top juniors, 18-year-old Serbian Miomir Kecmanovic continued his steady rise with a comprehensive 6-1 7-6 (4) win over Michael Mmoh. Kecmanovic will face Dennis Novikov who defeated Evan King 7-5 6-7(2) 6-4 in one of four all-American matches Saturday.
The day closed with the longest match of the day as Stefan Kozlov took out last year’s main draw finalist Thomaz Bellucci in a three-hour battle, 6-7(3) 6-3 7-6(5). Kozlov next battles seventh-seeded Australian Akira Santillan.
Qualifying play will conclude on Sunday, filling four available main draw slots. Play is set to begin at 11:00. See the full order of play here.