Reilly Opelka. Think about that name for a second. Now you’ve thought about it you’re probably asking yourself “who?”. Don’t worry, however; there are probably a lot of people out there asking the exact same question. Let’s begin with the fact that he’s won Wimbledon. In fairness, it was a Wimbledon Juniors title and it was last year, but regardless of that this week Opelka is making big push on the ATP Tour.
In all seriousness, who is Reilly Opelka? He’s a right-handed 18-year-old American ranked #823 in the world–nothing to exactly shout about when you have the likes of fellow teenagers Borna Coric and Alexander Zverev, both a year older, ranked at #51 and #24, respectively. When you go under the surface, however, Opelka’s game isn’t that of an ordinary player; it’s one of a player who could go on to become a huge threat at the top of the game.
At 6’11” and possibly still growing, Opelka is the joint tallest tennis professional of all time, standing at the same height as Croatian Ivo Karlovic and one inch taller than fellow American John Isner. This is what his game will be based around. Like the two players I just mentioned, they have the 2 biggest serves in the game and the youngster is no different. At the moment he can regularly serve in the mid 130mph range and as he develops the serve is only going to gain more speed and variety. Adding to that, Opelka has already shown that while his movement isn’t flawless, and never will be at that height, he is making big efforts to minimize the weaknesses of it.
With no disrespect to both Isner and Karlovic, it’s always been evident their ground games have been lacking, and despite only being 18 this is where Opelka’s game looks more promising than other giants. En route to his Junior Wimbledon title, his groundstrokes can solidly back up his huge serve, he can effectively finish short returns, can rally with opponents, and he’s not too bad finishing points off at the net either. Like many up and coming players he also has a 2-handed backhand, which is rather an advantage with such a style being able to hit down on the ball generating more power.
Opelka is definitely self-aware about his talent and potential, as he chose to sign with a sponsor and forgo playing college tennis over a year ago.
(To see exactly what Opelka is capable of, it would be enlightening to take a look at his highlights from the 2015 Wimbledon Junior final.)
Going into this week’s Atlanta Open, the big man had never won a match on tour, having lost the only two he’s ever played. At this point in time you might be wondering why such a record, given the so called game I’ve been praising, but this week he’s finally putting it all together. Having been given a Wild Card, he beat fellow Wild Card Christopher Eubanks 7-6(9) 7-6(5). Of course, Eubanks was ranked 1809 in the world, so it wasn’t exactly the biggest victory even, but it was his first tour victory and everyone starts somewhere, right?
However, in the second round on Wednesday, he did something on a completely different scale, beating 3rd seed and World #30 Kevin Anderson 6-7(5) 6-3 7-5, including saving 2 match points on the South African’s serve at 4-5* in the final set. This was a win that announced Reilly Opelka onto the main stage in men’s tennis. What took Opelka so long to get here? Well, he missed over six months of play with a stress fracture in his right foot. That’s a major factor.
Next he’ll play World #53 Donald Young, a man who was very much hyped himself when younger. Win or lose, Opelka has no doubt caught the attention of many. His big game is already making big strides to being effective among professionals and he’s only going to get better. Who knows, but at that height with the potential his serve has, it could well turn out to be one of the biggest shots we’ve ever seen in our game and be the basis of a great career.