News & Politics

Spotlight: They’ve Got Game

They’re two of the best junior tennis players in the country—and fierce competitors.

Photograph by Matthew Worden.

Denis Kudla, 16, says his proudest moment was beating French Open runner-up Roger Federer. Not in a tennis match—in a tennis target contest the day before last year’s US Open.

He’s quick to add that it was just as gratifying to beat phenom Junior Ore, 16 this month, training at the Junior Tennis Champions Center in College Park.

Last year, Kudla, who is from Arlington, and Ore, from Gaithersburg, were ranked one and two among American juniors. Together, they were the top doubles team. The United States Tennis Association has called Kudla “one of the hottest players on the junior circuit.” Ore’s fierce play earned him the nickname Baby Nadal.

When Kudla was seven, he tagged along while his father taught his older brother how to play tennis. Ore’s grandfather took him into the basement every night and told him to hit a target as many times as he could. In 2000, both boys started training at the Champions Center. While most of the 70 or so students go there just for tennis lessons, Kudla and Ore—and 12 other students—also take academic classes there.

Kudla and Ore practice five hours a day. Their coach, Frank Salazar, views their rivalry as a positive: “They push each other and make each other better. Denis’s mind is ahead of his game, and Junior’s game is ahead of his mind.”

In the next year, Salazar wants both to play in all four junior Grand Slam events and to clinch a wild card for the US Open. Both say their goal is to go pro at 18.

“I want to be number one in the world,” says Ore. “Once I win a Grand Slam, I’ll be happy. But I’m not going to lie; I like beating Kudla.”

This article first appeared in the September 2008 issue of The Washingtonian. For more articles like it, click here.