If young Americans Reilly Opelka and Christopher Eubanks were to take a regular spot at the ATP dinner table, they will have to win a lot of matches as they did on Tuesday at the New York Open.
Opelka, the 89th-ranked player in the world, defeated lefthander Adrian Mannarino, a semifinalist in last year’s inaugural New York Open, 2-6, 7-6 (5), 6-4. Eubanks, the 166th- ranked player who had to win two qualifying matches to enter the main draw, beat Adrian Menendez-Maceiras, 6-4, 7-6 (4). Both first-round matches tested the players’ "grind factor" on the black courts of NYCB Live’s Nassau Coliseum.
“I’ve won a lot of three-setters, not only this year but last year,” said Opelka, the 21-year-old who beat No. 1 American John Isner in the first round of the Australian Open in January. “And I’ve done really well against lefties, I’ve returned really well against them. I made some adjustments on my serve [for the second set]. My toss was all over the place in the first set. That was the biggest change.”
As he makes the climb up the rankings ladder, there are baby steps for a giant of a player who stands 6-11.
“I’ve improved a lot in general,” Opelka said. “It may not look like the improvements are huge, but the little details add up so much. Serve’s improved, the forehand is a lot better, understanding how to handle difficult moments in the match. I’m a nightmare to play.
“I’ve won a lot of three-set matches where I’ve lost the first set, so I’ve been there before. I’ve had a lot of success turning things around. My court awareness is pretty high. Sitting down between the first and second set and being able to analyze that from sort of an outside perspective is huge.”
Staying in the moment was key for Eubanks to defeat another wily veteran.
“I think I was pretty mentally tough,” said the 21-year-old Eubanks, who turned pro in 2017 after three years at Georgia Tech. “Getting a break in the second [set] and then getting broken right back, it can kind of weigh on you mentally, especially when you are supposed to be a server. Those are the moments you live for when you get up a break and you want to close it out the next game. I wasn’t able to do that.
“At 5-all to get broken again. I stayed tough mentally and once I got the break back for 6-all, I felt the momentum was on my side and I rode it all the way to the end.”
Eubanks, who plays an elegant one-handed backhand ala Roger Federer, has been mentored by fellow Atlanta resident and long-time ATP pro Donald Young.
“Donald Young gave me the opportunity [as a teenager] to see what a professional tennis players' practices are like,” said Eubanks, who stands 6-7. “To show me the quality of the practices he had, that expedited my progression. From a mental standpoint, Donald’s the one I talk to almost every day no matter how things are going. His career has been up and down but he’s always kept a positive mindset and that’s one of the biggest things he’s imparted on me. He taught me how to be a pro.”