One of the tallest men on the ATP tour at 6 feet, 11 inches, Reilly Opelka (UTR 14.87) is a 19-year-old to watch. Ranked among the top 300 professional men, Reilly’s won the 2015 Junior Wimbledon championship. On his way to the final, he defeated then top-ranked Taylor Fritz. Reilly took the final over Mikael Ymer (15.06), a Swedish player from an Ethiopian family, in a close 7-6, 6-4 match.
Born in Michigan, Opelka now lives in Palm Coast, Florida. He turned pro in 2016, playing his first ATP event at the U.S. Men’s Clay Court Championship. Reilly lost in the first round there to the #5 seed, Sam Querrey (15.47); at only 6 feet 6 inches, Querry was the little guy on the court. Reilly recorded his first ATP wins at the BB&T Atlanta Open, where he won three matches, including a three-set victory over Kevin Anderson (15.37) in which Opelka saved two match points on Anderson’s serve. Opelka went all the way to the Atlanta semifinals, where he lost to top seed, John Isner. The performance propelled Opelka to top 300 on ATP ranking list.
Universal Tennis interviewed Opelka in September, 2016. Here are a few exchanges from their conversation, which is also available for viewing on YouTube.
Prior playing any pro tennis, did you wonder how do you compare to pro players? Does UTR help make that comparison or influence the decision to turn pro?
From my understanding, it's the most accurate. It's tough to decide whether to go to college or turn pro. With a rating system that's as accurate as it is, that would only make the decision easier and less stressful on the player.
Opelka at BB&T Atlanta Open (Credit: Ron Angle)
How’s the pro tour different from junior events? Was adapting to the pro tour difficult? What’s the biggest challenge for you?
It's a huge difference , to be honest. Junior Slams and stuff, the level is pretty high. But you have some matches where you can not play your best, not compete your best, and still win. Here at the professional level, especially the ATP Tour level, you can’t get away with anything. Those guys have so many different ways to beat you.
So you always have to be adjusting throughout the match, and you have to really compete for every single point.
“Taylor Fritz really set the standard pretty high. We all knew that we could play at that level and it was just a matter of mentally being prepared to do it.”
US has currently six teenage players in ATP top 300. What’s your take on that and how do you get along with them?
Mainly the Americans are what are huge for me, all my friends. There are six guys in the top 300. Taylor Fritz really set the standard pretty high. We all knew that we could play at that level and it was just a matter of mentally being prepared to do it. Having Taylor, Frances Tiafoe, Tommy Paul, and Michael Mmoh—we’re all pretty competitive but we're all really good friends so we have a pretty good relationship. Just having those few doing the same thing makes it a lot more fun and less stressful, I guess.
Reilly next to Nick Kyrgios, Christopher Eubanks and Nick Kyrgios and Taylor Fritz
What is your regular day-to-day routine like?
Usually I’ll hit in the morning for around two-and-a-half hours. I'll start around 10 and end around 12:30. Then I'll get lunch, relax for an hour and a half or two, and then I'll do fitness, usually an hour and a half. Then I'll do treatment, rehab stuff, preventative work on my body to make sure I stay healthy.
“I've kind of got a mindset this year, training-wise, where “less is more.”
I've kind of got a mindset this year, training-wise, where “less is more.”
Just to keep me healthy. Minimizing court time here and there in practice. I only hit once a day, for two or two-and-a-half hours. I definitely reduce stress on my body, which goes along with preventing injuries.
There has been a lot of talk about sport nutrition in recent years. How much does nutrition matter to your success?
I think it's important but I'm not gonna go crazy with my diet. I’m not going to go gluten-free or vegan. There are certain things I can add. I just got like a bunch of blood drawn to see if there’s anything I'm missing vitamin-wise and whatnot. I am working with a nutritionist now but there's no secret, from what I’ve learned about nutrition. I'm not as disciplined as I should be, which I might have to be later on.
Opelka joined five other American teenagers who have cracked the Top 300 ATP after reaching the SF in Atlanta
Do you think the tennis system has changed much in recent years? How has USTA impacted your junior development?
The young generation—18, 19, 20—that they have now is ridiculously strong, arguably as strong as it's ever been. I think the program was set up great. Patrick did a great job running junior development, getting juniors living there on a full-time basis was huge. I know it's not ideal to take kids away from their home and whatnot. But as far as producing tennis players—for me at least, and I think I can speak on behalf of Taylor Fritz as well, and Tommy—without having that full-time environment at the USTA, I don't know where we'd all be yet.
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