Players You Should Know: Reilly Opelka

Our new feature is called “Players You Should Know”. As it sounds, it’s a place to introduce players who might not be dominating tennis headlines but whom we feel are doing interesting things in the tennis world. For most of them, we suspect they’ll come to own the headlines one day soon. 

Today, we want to introduce American player Reilly Opelka. Back in 2015, Reilly announced himself as a contender when he won the Junior Wimbledon Championship. Now, 18 months later, he is currently ranked No. 208 and playing in the quarterfinals of a Challenger event in Champaign, Illinois. Having started the year ranked No. 981, the 19-year-old’s meteoric rise was edged along by a run to the semi-finals of the BB&T ATP event in Atlanta. (He lost to John Isner in what was, I’ll guess, the tallest combined height in any ATP match, ever.) Later, he notched a win over Jeremy Chardy and a loss in two tough tiebreak sets against Jo-Wilfred Tsonga at the Cincinnati Masters event. He also won his first Challenger event in Charlottesville earlier in November. 

The tennis world is bullish on Opelka’s tennis future. When he does become a common feature in Main Draw play, the conversation will focus on his height. At 6'11", Reilly will draw many comparisons with another tall American, John Isner. However, it’s important to recognize that at 19 Reilly has announced himself on the ATP stage years sooner than the big man from the University of Georgia did. Scouts say that Reilly’s movement is highly impressive for a man of his size and Reilly’s return stats are good enough to help him end sets before they reach the tiebreak. When you’re playing multiple days in a row throughout the year, this can keep your energy higher and body healthier. 

Originally from Michigan and now making his home in Orlando, Reilly is currently training hard to bring his level up to a place where he can consistently perform against Tour players. We expect Reilly to make some big runs this year; for the moment, he’ll have to qualify into most Tour-level events, including the Australian Open. If he can get his ranking high enough come the American hard-court swing this summer, he’ll likely receive Main Draw Wild Cards wherever he desires.

Be on the lookout for Reilly, whom I’ve been lucky enough to spend some time with. If you catch him at a tournament, don’t be intimidated by his towering height: his personality is as good as his serve. You can also follow Reilly on Instagram.

Photo: Keith Allison, Flickr

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