July 12th, 2015

Blog: Opelka Joins Top U.S. Pro Tennis Prospects After Wimbledon Win

Youth Tennis News

Opelka-wimbledonReilly Opelka is used to coming out of nowhere and ending the week (or fortnight at Wimbledon) holding up trophies.

Compared to fellow American John Isner for his 6-foot-11 frame and a game centered around giant serves and forehands, last year Opelka accomplished something Isner never could — winning a top Grade 1-level international ITF junior tournament. He was unseeded, and beat three of the top four seeds en route to the title.

Last year at “The Zoo,” the USTA Boys’ 18s national hard courts, he couldn’t get into the main draw with his low ranking, needing to play through the qualifying to reach the main draw. He was also a finalist at the USTA Boys’ 18s national clay courts.

Palm Coast, Fla. firemen salute Opekla (photo: Flaglerlive.com)

Palm Coast, Fla. firemen salute Opelka (photo: Flaglerlive.com)

This past weekend the 17-year-old product of USTA Professional Development in Boca Raton, Fla., did it again. An unseeded player flying below the radar, Opelka reached the final after upsetting world No. 1 junior and fellow American Taylor Fritz in the semis, and in the final handled Sweden’s Mikael Ymer 7-6 (5), 6-4 to become the Wimbledon boys’ championship.

Like Isner, Opelka has the overpowering serve, the big forehand and soft hands at the net. He can hang with just about any player when he’s “on.” But unlike Isner, his game has reached a maturation point during his teen years, which is why the Opelkas made a family decision for Reilly to turn pro three months ago rather than going the college route.

Two years ago pro tennis was not in the immediate equation. Opelka was garnering attention not so much for his results, but for being a 15-year-old who had shot up to 6-foot-8, growing four inches in year.

“Every day,” he said as a 15 year old, “someone asks me how tall I am.

Continuing to train with the USTA’s Tom Gullikson, the former U.S. Davis Cup coach and player, the two re-tooled Opelka’s game to accommodate his growth spurt. No longer was he your average player who needed to make scampering defense a priority as he shot up to 6-foot-9 last year, and 6-foot-11 in 2015.

There is uncertainty as to whether the growth spurt has hit it peak, but no uncertainly when discussing the potential of his re-tooled arsenal and his decision to go pro. The decision did not rule him out for participating in the junior slams, which he can play until he turns 19.

“It was a hard one,” Opelka, who shares the same agent as Isner and fellow American Sam Querrey, told FlaglerLive.com about the decision to turn pro. “College was my plan all along until last September, when things gradually shifted and to turn pro seemed like a possibility.”

Opelka came up just short of sweeping the singles and doubles junior boy’s titles at Wimbledon, losing in the doubles final.

In the end it was a second straight American boy’s singles winner at Wimbledon, and another name added to the sudden wealth of “next up” American junior boys readying themselves to make an impact on the ATP men’s circuit.