Denis Kudla has always had realistic expectations for his tennis career. When he was 18—ranked No. 4 in the ITF junior world rankings—I asked him what his goals were as he prepared embark on taking his game to the professional level.

“I’d like to crack the Top 500 in the next six months and then hopefully the Top 300 [by 2012], then I’ll get direct entry into challengers and then hopefully Top 100 by the end of 2013.”

Aware of his strengths and weaknesses on the court, Kudla accomplished every single one of his initial goals right on schedule. One of the more self-aware and humble competitors you’ll find, he’s not one to set lofty, unreachable goals for himself, which is exactly why my ears perked up when Blair Henley asked about his chances in Newport after his first-round win over Steve Johnson.

“I’m optimistic, I think I can win this tournament for sure,” Kudla said.

That’s not something the 28-year-old says lightly. Who also noted that his next opponent, Jenson Brooksby, is the real deal.

“Brooksby is unbelievable. Probably the best guy on the challenger tour this year for sure, so he’s no joke.”

According to the oddsmakers, Kudla is listed as a -140 favorite. It’s a surprisingly good price for Kudla, who, if he wins, will officially own as many ATP wins on grass as he has on hard courts. That’s an unbelievable statistic given that grass-court tennis is typically afforded less than a month each season.

It’s safe to say Kudla is a grass-court specialist. An extremely flat hitter on both sides with exceptional timing, the Arlington, Va. resident relishes the extra juice the slick surface provides on his groundstrokes.

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Kudla's backhand down the line is one of the better grass-court shots on the tour. 

While Brooksby has racked up impressive wins in his brief pro career, asking him to defeat Kudla for the second time this season—this time on the world No. 104's favorite surface—might be too tall an ask.

The Pick: Denis Kudla