Road to Boston: Reilly Opelka, Team World
No.1 American Reilly Opelka makes his Laver Cup debut at a career-high ranking of 19, having cracked the top 20 this summer.
At a towering 6ft 11in, the 23-year-old avowed art and fashion aficionado is the equal tallest man in ATP history and is ready to deploy his hefty firepower for Team World before a home US crowd in Boston.
Opelka has deep runs in singles and doubles to his name in 2021 and makes for an accomplished addition to captain John McEnroe’s lineup.
How the year started
It was a slow start to the season on hard courts, before Opelka hit his straps on the surface he least expected. On the clay in Rome, the American surged into his maiden Masters 1000 semifinal, beating the likes of in-form Aslan Karatsev and rising Italian Lorenzo Musetti on the way.
A third-round showing at Roland Garros soon followed before top Team Europe player Daniil Medvedev prevailed.
Doubles delivers success
With such explosive artillery, especially his serve, it was little wonder Opelka was expected to do well on grass, but it was in doubles that he excelled on the surface.
At Queen’s Club, in only his second doubles outing of the season, he teamed with Australian John Peers to reach the final.
In his subsequent and only other doubles outing since, he teamed with 20-year-old Italian Jannik Sinner on hard court to claim the Atlanta Open title over Jordan Thompson and Steve Johnson.
How it’s going
The doubles triumph gave the 23-year-old some much-needed momentum in singles and by the time he arrived in Toronto he was all guns blazing.
Unseeded, he beat the likes of Team World teammate Nick Kyrgios, seeds Grigor Dimitrov and Roberto Bautista Agut and Team Europe player Stefanos Tsitsipas for his biggest career victory – his first over a top-five opponent.
Following the loss, Tsitsipas spoke of the difficulty in facing an opponent as tall and with such an explosive first serve.
“The speeds reach up close to 230, 240 kilometres per hour,” he said. “Even with the best anticipation, it still makes it very difficult for a one-handed backhand guy to return those serves.”
The win catapulted Opelka into a first Masters 1000 final, where a red-hot Medvedev stopped him in his tracks.
“I think this week was a great example of using [an] optimistic mindset as much as possible,” Opelka said. “I think it can extend some weeks, even if it’s just one tournament per year, maybe two a year. I mean, look what this does for my ranking. That’s all it takes.”
Team Europe player Casper Ruud edged past Opelka in Cincinnati before the American fell to Lloyd Harris in the fourth round at the US Open. It was Opelka’s first venture to the second week of a major and ensured his ascent to his current mark of world No.19.
Opelka on playing Laver Cup
McEnroe said he was “really impressed with [Opelka’s] recent form” and highlighted recent results on hard courts as a key reason for his selection.
The young American was champing at the bit to make his debut.
“I’m very excited to be representing Team World at the Laver Cup in Boston,” Opelka said. “Playing in the US in an arena like TD Garden, with John McEnroe as our captain, is going to be a surreal experience. I can’t wait.”