Florida’s own Reilly Opelka won his first ATP-level title on Sunday at the New York Open, in the final defeating qualifier Brayden Schnur of Canada and formerly of the University of North Carolina 6-1, 6-7(7), 7-6(7).
Opelka trains at the USTA National Campus in Orlando, and spoke with the ATP World Tour website on his journey from being an under-the-radar junior only a few years ago.
“If you look back at 2016, I was a good junior playing at home,” said the native of Palm Coast, located north of Daytona Beach and south of St. Augustine. “No one knew me. I had a big game and swung freely. I had a general idea of how I was winning matches there, but it’s not as in-depth as it is now. My style of play isn’t that much different since then, but I’m more consistent now and there’s more of an understanding to what I’m trying to do.”
One thing the 6-foot-11 American does is serve.
Throughout the week he dropped 156 aces on opponents, which helped him fight back from a set down in three of his five matches. He saved six match points in the second-set tiebreak of his semifinal win against top seed John Isner.
Championship feels. pic.twitter.com/NvMO77S3Lq
— New York Open (@NewYorkOpen) February 18, 2019
The 2015 Wimbledon juniors champion, Opelka crossed the finish line in the New York Open final by the narrowest of margins. Schnur saved five match points, and looked to have a match point himself after delivering an ace at 7-7 in the deciding-set tiebreak, but an Opelka video challenge reversed the call.
It was a career week for the 23-year-old Schnur who was appearing in his first ATP final after entering New York with no career wins at the ATP level.
“Only a handful of people know how hard I really worked for this,” Schnur said, fighting back tears during his post-match press conference. “I’m not the most talented guy out on the court.”
Opelka is the second American first-time ATP winner this year after Tennys Sandgren who was victorious in Auckland, New Zealand in January. Opelka’s win over Isner was his second in a row following their meeting in January at the Australian Open, and the two combined for 81 aces in their three-set match in New York. The American hit 43 aces in each of his final two matches, just two off the record of 45 for a best two-of-three set match held by Ivo Karlovic.
“It feels really good to win this event. I didn’t think it was going to come this soon, to be honest,” said Opelka, who also received congratulatory messages from fellow Americans immediately following the final. “Taylor Fritz and Frances Tiafoe both reached out. There’s not much ego with those guys. They’re just stoked to see other Americans doing well.”
Last year he won two ATP challenger-level titles and cracked the Top 100 on the ATP rankings for the first time despite being sidelined with mononucleosis.
Opelka with the win rose to a career-high No. 56 on the ATP rankings.