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Reilly Opelka looking to repeat NY Open title, his lone ATP championship

Reilly Opelka with the running forehand return against

Reilly Opelka with the running forehand return against Brayden Schnur in the men's singles finals match during the 2019 NY Open Tennis Tournament at the NYCB Live's Nassau Coliseum last February. Credit: Joseph D. Sullivan

Reilly Opelka has yet to win a match this year, going 0-2 in first-round losses at Adelaide and the Australian Open. But coming off a strong year in 2019, which included winning the title at the New York Open, he’s expecting big things.

Big being the operative word when you talk about Opelka. At 6-11, Opelka is an imposing figure on the black courts at NYCB Live’s Nassau Coliseum this week. And his victory over John Isner (merely 6-10) in the semifinals here last year was truly big. The pair served a combined 81 aces, the record for an ATP three-set match.

There have been a lot of aces, forehands and backhands since that helped him reach his career high rank of 31 in October of last year, though the New York Open remains the 22-year-old’s lone ATP victory. He will play Yoshihito Nishioka in a second-round match on Thursday.

“The season’s long, been a lot of places, played a lot more matches, grown a lot on and off the court as expected,” Opelka said. “Everything has just gotten a lot better, even when I’m losing matches I’ll go back and look at them. I’m playing good tennis. There’s not that many matches where it’s like ‘geez, that was bad.’ In previous years I can definitely find some.”

Highlights from last season include beating Stan Wawrinka in five sets in a second-round match at Wimbledon and then losing to Milos Raonic, a first-time participant in the NY Open, in the third round. He made the semifinals at Tokyo, Atlanta and Basel.

The long campaign beat up that big body and he coped with a sore knee and back that kept him from as much on-court training as he would have liked in the offseason. But he spent a lot of time in the gym, trying to bolster his stamina.

“I lost a lot of matches last year because my body wasn’t recovering well,” Opelka said. “Wimbledon I was struggling. U.S. Open was a disaster; my body just completely collapsed on me and I lost in the second round [to Dominik Koepfer].

“I have been doing a lot of work in the gym, moving a lot of weight. Making my body a lot stronger so my body can tolerate those five-set matches. I usually play those matches fine, it’s just the recovery the next day or two days later. I have no problem playing them, I can play all day.”

Now he’s hoping to play all week, make it to Sunday’s final, make that his second Tour victory.

Notes & quotes: Yet another Serbian player is moving up the tennis ladder. Miomir Kecmanovic, the 54th ranked player in the world and one of five Serbians in the top 54, defeated Paolo Lorenzi, 6-3, 6-3, in a second-round match. The 20-year-old, based in the IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida, since he was 13, has a ways to go to catch the top Serb, all-time great Novak Djokovic, the current No. 1 player in the world and Kecmanovic’s inspiration. “We keep in touch and he checks on how I am doing,” Kecmanovic said. “It’s really nice to have someone like that to talk to.” . . . American Steve Johnson served for the first set against Andreas Seppi. But he was broken and went on to lose 7-6 (4), 6-3 . . . First-round matches are sparsely attended here, but a STEM education program outing of Long Island students, more than 700, provided refreshing life to the early matches on Tuesday morning. It’s part of the tournament’s community outreach program.

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