Super Monday lived up to its billing with an opening round upset and four of five Americans advancing on day one at the Fayez Sarofim & Co. U.S. Men’s Clay Court Championship.
Qualifier Denis Kudla handed 2014 champion and No. 5 seed Fernando Verdasco his first ever opening round loss at River Oaks (previously 5-0). Kudla’s 6-4 7-6(4) victory marks the latest success in a resurgent 2018 season, where he’s won 13 of his last 15 matches. Once ranked as high as No. 53 in the world, the 25-year-old fell outside the top 200 last fall and credits improved fitness for his strong start to the year.
“It was a great performance on the clay,” Kudla said. “I honestly didn’t think I had a high chance of winning, but I just wanted to go out there and make him earn it. Then I realized I could stay in the points and keep executing, and I did.”
Frances Tiafoe continued to impress, taking out Mackenzie McDonald 6-3 6-3 just weeks after losing to the former UCLA Bruin at the Dallas Challenger. Currently sitting at his career-high rank of No. 58, Tiafoe captured his first title earlier this year in Delray Beach.
Bjorn Fratangelo looked sharp in his 6-1 6-1 defeat of Australian Jordan Thompson. The 24-year-old Pennsylvania native is no stranger to success on clay. He became one of only three Americans in history to win the Roland Garros boys’ title when he hoisted the trophy in 2011. He also got his first Grand Slam match win at Roland Garros in 2016.
No. 8 seed Tennys Sandgren earned his first career win in Houston with a routine 6-2 6-2 victory over Blaz Kavcic. Sandgren is looking to build on a breakthrough performance at the Australian Open, where he upset Stan Wawrinka and Dominic Thiem en route to the quarterfinals.
Switzerland’s Henri Laaksonen dispatched German wild card Dustin Brown 6-4 6-3 in just under an hour, setting up a second-round battle with No. 1 seed John Isner. Brown, a Houston fan favorite, will be back on court with Tiafoe for doubles action. The duo reached the final in 2017.
At 45 and 39 years old, respectively, Daniel Nestor and Ivo Karlovic proved age is just a number when they ousted Australians Nick Kyrgios, 22, and Matt Reid, 27, 7-6(6) 6-4.
First round play will continue on Tuesday with a noon start. See the full order of play.