“It’s been a good year so far.”
That’s the low-key summary of 2019 from Reilly Opelka, the up-and-coming American tennis powerhouse who won his first Association of Tennis Professionals (ATP) Tour title in February, and saw his world-ranking climb to an all-time high of 53 in May – just a few years into his career.
“It was a big accomplishment for me – a huge step in the direction I’ve always wanted to go in,” he says of the win. “And I hope it’s just the beginning. There’s a lot more I want to accomplish and that’s definitely a really good steppingstone toward the progression.”
Next up for Opelka is DC’s legendary summer series, the Citi Open, from July 27 to August 4. Formerly known as the Legg Mason Tennis Classic, the series has been drawing District residents (an average of 72,000 each year) to its Rock Creek Park location since 1969.
While summer in DC might not be the preferred weather for all players, Florida-based Opelka loves the playing conditions. He says the high heat helps his style of play.
“I get a lot of help from the court with my serve. It bounces higher when it’s hot, and the ball goes through the court more. So from a conditions standpoint, it’s a good setup for me.”
Opelka’s rankings in the tennis world have been climbing since he turned pro, around the time he won the 2015 junior Wimbledon tournament. The athlete is almost 7 feet tall, making him the tallest ATP-ranked player in tennis history. While he tried his hand at many different sports as a kid, tennis was always his main focus.
“I went to public school and had a lot of friends in the neighborhood, so I spent a lot of time throwing the football, playing baseball, playing basketball.
But tennis was always a priority for me, even at a young age.”
With his incredibly powerful serve, Opelka has drawn comparisons to another U.S. tennis stalwart who also happens to be one of the top players in the world – and one of the tallest. John Isner, currently ranked No. 11 in the world, has been at it about a decade longer than Opelka. But he is still improving every year, achieving his highest career ranking ever just last year: No. 8 in the world.
Isner and the Citi Open go way back to his debut year in 2007, where just six weeks after turning pro, he made a splash and battled his way to the finals but lost to Andy Roddick in two sets. Isner made the Citi Open finals in 2013 and 2015 as well, losing to Juan Martin del Potro and Kei Nishikori respectively. When asked about his chances at this year’s tournament, Isner lightheartedly says that maybe he will finally win it all and take home the big trophy.
“I’ve had some great memories competing in DC and have been close to winning a few times. Do I think this could be my year? Sure, why not? I’m looking forward to being back and playing in front of great DC fans.”
Now a veteran of many Citi Opens and tournaments in general, Isner can spot talent when he looks at a new crop of U.S. players – and he sees it in Opelka.
“Reilly has a lot of potential and is on the right track. He’s a good friend of mine as well and obviously, we can relate on many levels. I think if he stays healthy [and] continues to work hard and develop, then the sky is the limit.”
Catch Isner and Opelka at the Citi Open from July 27 through August 4 at the Rock Creek Park Tennis Center. Tickets start at $25. Learn more at www.citiopentennis.com.
Rock Creek Park Tennis Center: 16th and Kennedy Streets in NW, DC; 202-721-9500; www.citiopentennis.com