With so much of men’s tennis dominated by Novak Djokovic, Roger Federer, and Rafael Nadal, it is easy for the sport’s young up-and-comers to be lost in the mix. This is the case with Reilly Opelka, the budding American star who made waves at Wimbledon in 2019 when he upset Stan Wawrinka. At just 22 years of age, Opelka has a shot to do what so many others have failed to do and break into the top tier of men’s tennis. The only thing that’s holding him back, however, could be himself.
Who is Reilly Opelka?
Reilly Opelka, according to his profile on the ATP’s official website, began playing tennis at the age of six. From a very early age, Opelka learned from former professional Tom Gullickson in Palm Coast, Florida. This prepared him for success from an early age, and Opelka began making his name on the ATP’s junior circuit, where he won a junior title in 2015.
Opelka stands out in any crowd. With his 6’11” frame, he is likely to dwarf almost every opponent his faces, and his ability to use his size for brute strength makes him a scary proposition for any of tennis’s superstars to cover. He, alongside the 6’11” Ivo Karlovic and 6’10” John Isner, make up a trio known as the “Triple Towers” due to their height.
Before his showing at the Australian Open, Opelka secured his place in men’s tennis with a victory over Brayden Schnur at the New York Open. This victory helped him overcome a mental hurdle that every champion eventually has to defeat.
“This [title] is definitely what I’m most proud of,” said Opelka (per ATP.com). “I was tough mentally, especially losing a lot of first sets this week, and my first serve really helped me out. I was able to play clutch in those big moments.”
What makes him so dangerous?
In Red Bull’s profile of Opelka, they highlight exactly what it is that makes him scary for his opponents. He can serve the ball at over 140mph, meaning that any opponent who is not on his toes is going to watch the ball pass by them before they even knew he hit it. American men have struggled to compete in major events since Andy Roddick retired, but Opelka could be the driving force to change this.
With Opelka coming into his own on the ground when he isn’t serving, his size, athletic gifts, and talent for delivering the ball at blazing-hot speeds make him one the most promising names in a sport that’s in desperate need of a young superstar to take the baton from the older regime. Opelka, however, might need to look internally before he takes this next step.
Is Reilly Opelka standing in his own way?
Opelka is undeniably great at tennis and has the makings of the superstar that America desires. He’s charismatic, funny, and a physical freak. His outspoken demeanor, however, can occasionally get the best of him. This, combined with an ability to get inside his head, can be the death of him when things aren’t going his way.
In a match against Fabio Fognini, Opelka was called for a penalty for throwing his racket in frustration. Rather than take this penalty in stride, Opelka not only complained to the official about perceived hypocrisy, as Fognini had thrown his racket several times without recourse. After a profanity-laced tirade on the official, Opelka capped it off with a personal attack.
“You’re pathetic,” Opelka said. “You give me one warning after one throw. He’s thrown his s— four times, bro.”
Opelka would go on to lose the match after being up two sets. This incident isn’t something that will haunt Opelka forever, but at 22 years old, he needs to realize when there is a time for events like this and when there’s a time to keep his mouth shut. If he can do this and let his game do the talking, the sky can be the limit with regards to his accomplishments.