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Reilly Opelka holds off Brayden Schnur to win NY Open

Reilly Opelka holds his winner's trophy overhead after

Reilly Opelka holds his winner's trophy overhead after the men's singles finals match during Day 7 session of the New York Open tennis tournament at NYCB Live's Nassau Coliseum on Sunday, Feb. 17, 2019. Credit: Joseph D. Sullivan

Reilly Opelka now knows he’s a winner.

Brayden Schnur now knows he belongs.

Opelka won his first ATP tournament on Sunday when he defeated Schnur in the final of the New York Open on the black court of NYCB Live’s Nassau Coliseum. It was a spirited 6-1, 6-7 (7), 7-6 (7) contest which ended with Opelka’s 43rd ace of the match.

At 6-11, Opelka is a giant of a player who has room to grow. The 21-year-old American, who won the junior Wimbledon title in 2015, also displayed a pretty fair buggy-whip forehand and decent court coverage. He’s talked about how little things he’s been working on have made a difference, including changing his service toss, following through more on his forehand and playing more aggressively.

“This is my biggest title yet, one I’m most proud of,” Opelka said. “It’s been a lot of years coming. A million people have helped me. I want to go a lot further.”

He won the first set easily, breaking twice. Schnur didn’t look sharp as Opelka was getting his serve up to speed, much like he did in serving 43 aces in defeating top-seeded John Isner in a semifinal Saturday night.

After failing to convert a match point on the 12th point of the second-set tiebreak, Opelka had the match on his racket serving the 14th point, but double-faulted, only his second of the match. Then he couldn’t handle a forcing volley by Schnur, and after he returned Schnur’s serve long, Opelka suddenly found himself in a deciding third set.

Again it went to a tiebreak and again he held match points. Again Schnur defended them. At 7-all, Schnur thought he served an ace, but Opelka’s challenge proved crucial when the call was overturned on video review. Schnur then double faulted to make it 8-7 for Opelka, who finished it by blasting his winning ace.

“That third-set breaker could have gone either way,” Opelka said. “The first serve he hit at 7-all, [the challenge] was the biggest difference in the match.”

“To have a challenge at 7-all, to be that close, have a 30-second break, then hit a second serve into the net, it’s super tough,” said Schnur, who was well supported by Long Island fans. “I left everything I could out on the court.”

Schnur was second best on Sunday, but definitely not second rate. The 23-year-old Canadian, who began the tournament never having won a match at the ATP Tour level, won four of them this week and made the final, all after having to win two qualifying matches just to get in. At the awards ceremony, he broke down.

“It’s an amazing week for me; coming from Dallas I wasn’t even sure I was going to show up here,” Schnur said. “I wasn’t feeling well, I was tired. Then I make an ATP final.”

Now he’s sure he belongs.

“I’ve believed it for a little while,” Schnur said. “I think I struggled with that earlier in my career. But definitely [now] I think I belong with the top guys, I belong in these kind of tournaments, playing with the best every week.”

Ranked 154th in the world, he’ll make a massive leap when the new rankings come out on Monday, giving him far better chances of gaining direct entry to future tournaments.

He humbly assessed what he had achieved.

“I’m not the most talented guy on the court,” Schnur said. “From 14 years old my coach told me to wake up 5:30 in the morning for practice. I did that for years. Coming out of college with a really bad knee injury, never knowing if I was going to be able to play at my full potential again. Two years later recovering and now being here it’s just a roller-coaster ride. Having this week has been unbelievable.”

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