The clan of big servers have forever had their underrated baseline and net play overshadowed by their booming serves. The art of protecting their serve seldom gets any limelight which doesn’t mean it’s easy to master. Ivo Karlovic, Milos Raonic, and John Isner are some of those names present in the famed clan. Reilly Opelka just became the latest entrant.
The 21-year-old young American is finding his way around the ATP Tour and it’s been a good start. He won the ATP 250 event at New York in February. With a win-loss record of 12-12, the American has had a decent first half of 2019.
The first thing that strikes everyone about Opelka is his height. Standing at 6’11”, the tennis mind immediately wanders to the notion of a huge server and that’s where everything about Opelka gets overlooked. His second round encounter against the three-time Grand Slam champion Stan Wawrinka perfectly illustrated how Opelka stood up to the baseline challenge and conquered it.
Battle vs Wawrinka
Playing a high-quality opponent like Wawrinka, Opelka soon found out he can’t just rely on his serve to get over the line. The American checked the first tick box by acknowledging that very fact in his press conference after his win. When asked about it, Opelka replied, “At this level, you see it more often. Today we went through a patch where he had breakpoints almost every game. That’s what good players do, they make you find other ways to win that you’re not comfortable with.”
The American could have been disheartened by the fact that his biggest weapon was being countered. Instead, he found ways to adapt to the challenge and kept brainstorming until he passed it. Opelka kept making minor adjustments he implemented throughout the match.
Afterwards, he said this about it: “Just different things, where he (Wawrinka) was standing on the return, what he was doing. Obviously, I started serving and volleying a lot and he was killing me, he was starting to return really well, he was putting a lot of balls at my feet. At first, I had a lot of success serving and volleying so I kept with that. But then as he kind of picked up on what I was doing and started reading my serve a little bit, it was more difficult for me to win points at the net. So I had to put a lot of tennis from the baseline today.”
Milos Raonic Up next for Opelka
The American might not enjoy putting in a lot of baseline tennis, but he’s no slouch at it. Tall players aren’t incredibly swift around the court but they make it up with their reach. Opelka’s passing game isn’t too shabby either. That’s something he’ll need in abundance of when he takes on a fellow member of the big-serving clan, Milos Raonic, in the third round at Wimbledon 2019. While both players will heavily rely on their serves, their ability to counter each other at the net will be heavily tested. One hopes anyone who tunes into the fascinating contest can appreciate the subtle art of protecting a big serve.
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