ATP Atlanta Quarterfinal Preview: Dudi Sela - Denis Kudla

A pair of surprise quarterfinalists meet with Dudi Sela seeking a second straight trip to the semifinals or better after last year's Finals run in Atlanta. Denis Kudla can book a spot in his first ever semifinal at this level with a win.

Dudi Sela vs. (Q) Denis Kudla

Sela should be happy with his second round win over Benjamin Becker after some self-deprication in his opening round win over Mardy Fish. Sela admitted that Fish likely would have beat him if he had more match play. Fish himself said he played poorly. Against Becker however, Sela was on-point. He scored the lone break in the first set late as he secured a 7-5 win. He was able to get to Becker again early in the second set as he broke for a 2-1 lead and closed out the set with another break of serve for a 6-3 scoreline. He converted on three of nine break opportunities off Becker's serve in the match. Sela's serve was solid, winning him 81 percent of his first serve points. He also doled out just one break chance that he was able to save.

For Kudla, it was a testy battle in the opening set of his second round match with third-seeded Jack Sock. The two exchanged breaks of serve to open the match. Kudla was then broken in the fifth game as Sock took a 3-2 lead and consolidated that to go up 4-2. End of the set, right? Not so fast. Kudla would break Sock at love to make it 4-4 in the first. The first set went to a tie break where Kudla prevailed 8-6. It certainly was not vintage play from Sock who had four double faults and won just 31 percent of his second serve points in that set. In the second set, it was clear that this would be Kudla's day. He broke Sock for a 2-1 lead and never looked back as he won 7-6, 6-3.

A Little History Repeating

This will mark the third meeting between Sela and Kudla at the professional level. Sela has come out on top on both previous occasions. The last came in June 2013 when Sela defeated him in straight sets on grass at the Nottingham Challenger. The other meeting was in 2012 when Sela whipped Kudla 6-4, 6-3 at the Delray Beach tournament on an outdoor hard court. Certainly a lot has changed since then with Kudla in the form of his career at the moment. The American has gone 16-2 since the French Open. So will that be enough to keep Sela from making this quarterfinal a three-peat?

The Lowdown

Neither Kudla nor Sela is going to be mistaken for John Isner in the serve category. Neither man has a power serve, relying more on spot placement. Getting first serves in consistently will be a key for both as the second serve of both will be picked on. Kudla's got better against Sock, but he was winning just 38 percent of the points on his second serve in the first set against Sock. Sela has won more than 50 percent of his second serve points in both his matches. That is a number that will be important if he wants to win.

Off the ground, Kudla should have the edge in reliability. His groundstrokes may not be huge, but they are clean and crisp when he's playing his best. Sela is no slouch, but Kudla should have a slight advantage in rallies given his current form. In spite of his recent run of success, this writer thinks a big chunk of Friday's match will be mental. Sela has been there, done that at the business end of this very tournament. Kudla? Yes, he's made Challenger finals and won Challenger finals, but talk to any tour pro and they will tell you getting to that first ATP level final is a different animal.

He has two steps to go to get there. This writer thinks the serves will cancel out, leaving this one to be decided on who gets after it better off the ground. This writer favors Kudla just slightly in that category. This writer thinks he's confident and the win over Sock, whether Sock was fully engaged in that match or not, is big for his mental game. This writer thinks he needs a good start again as a repeat of his slower start against Sock could spell doom against a veteran like Sela.

Prediction: Kudla in three sets