Reilly Opelka brings a big game

Welcome to Tennis & Travels, a new column that applauds the readers who do decide to combine business with pleasure. Because life is short, and you should travel and play tennis—maybe even do both at once.

American tennis, it turns out, is totally fine and far from doomed.

That’s what the headlines say this week (here, here and here), following young Reilly Opelka’s win at the prestigious Wimbledon boys’ title. The unseeded American defeated Sweden’s Mikael Ymer 7-6 (5) and 6-4 in the final, managing 15 aces and never facing a break point—he made it look easy, but the rest of the tournament was anything but.

Opelka needed three sets to advance in his first two matches, but he didn’t lose a set following those two matches. Along the way, the American dethroned his fellow countryman Taylor Harry Fritz, the No. 1 seed and one of the finalists at this year’s French Open. (In Paris, Fritz had lost against another American, Tommy Paul.)

If you see Americans everywhere in this post, it’s because they seemingly have overtaken tennis in the juniors. That’s a good thing for 1) the families of the young players, 2) Americans and 3) anyone who believes that a strong America is good for the health of tennis.

Opelka’s win means that the United States, absolutely in the midst of a dark, dark period in the country’s tennis tradition at the professional level, has now claimed the two most recent Wimbledon boys’ titles.

But of course, you’ll say that I’m burying the lede so here it is: Reilly Opelka is tall. How tall? Well, just look at the photo.

Opelka stands about six-foot-11 and, at 17, he is still growing. Inevitably, the comparisons to fellow tall American John Isner have already started.

 (The jokes too have started and, I must confess, I laughed at that one. Good one, Jon Wertheim!)

 

Opelka isn’t John Isner, however. In all likelihood, we have seen everything there is to see with Isner, who is 30 years old. Opelka, for the most part, is still full of promise and it’ll be up to him to use his height as an advantage in other situations than during his service games, which has been Isner’s undoing to some extent in his career. Mind you, there’s nothing wrong with relying on as fabulous a weapon as his serve is. But in order to be successful in the pros, when he does join the ATP World Tour, Opelka has to develop other facets of his game: his return game, his ground strokes and, most important and challenging for him considering his height, his nimbleness and mobility.

For what it’s worth, Opelka might already have the groundstrokes if we are to believe one tennis mind.

If he doesn’t, I’d suggest the 17-year-old to ask Roger Federer for advice: maybe he still has his ear?

For American tennis, the cavalry is just about to arrive and Opelka is leading the way after his win at Wimbledon. “It’s got to be the best it’s been for the juniors in a while,” Opelka said after his win. “I mean, it’s great knowing that with all the competition, there’s a high level in the United States, that we have access to practice with each other whenever. I mean, that’s awesome.”

You bet that you guys are a bunch, Reilly. And we’ll discuss the other American juniors who are excelling in the subsequent editions of this column, right up until the start of the US Open.

Follow Charles Blouin-Gascon on Twitter @RealCBG