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By Pat Mitsch, special to USTA.com
PLANTATION, Fla. – Reilly Opelka hears the question every day. Sometimes it comes from a friend who hasn’t seen him in a while. Other times it's asked by a stranger whose head tilts backward while walking up to shake his hand.
“Every day,” Opelka says, “someone asks me how tall I am.”
Opelka, at 16 years old, is already 6-foot-8 and seems to be growing into his game at the Metropolia Orange Bowl International Tennis Championships in Plantation, Fla.
With a 6-4, 6-4 win over No. 15 seed Nino Serdarusic of Croatia on Wednesday at the Frank Veltri Tennis Center, Opelka moved into the third round of the boys’ 18s draw – one of only two unseeded players among the 16 left – setting up a showdown with No. 2 seed Johan Sebastien Tatlot of France.
Tatlot is ranked No. 6 in the world among juniors ages 18 and under. Opelka, who was given a wild-card entry into this tournament, is No. 660. But after qualifying and reaching the third round at the Eddie Herr International Championships last week, Opelka is starting to shake some of the troubles that would nag a 6-8 tennis player who can’t stop growing.
“There’s ups and downs to it, obviously,” Opelka said of his height after his match on Wednesday. “I’m able to serve more and use my serve. But at the same time, I’m not as agile as some of the other guys, which is what I work on – to have that ability to do a little bit of both.”
As Opelka tells it, he’s here now because his father, George, needed someone to golf with eight years ago near their home in Palm Coast, Fla., just south of Jacksonville. That spare golfer turned out to be Tom Gullikson, the former U.S. Davis Cup captain and now coach with the USTA Player Development program. Opelka began training under Gullikson and, four years ago, moved to Boca Raton, Fla., to train at the USTA Training Center Headquarters, where he remains today.
At the beginning of 2013, Opelka was 6-4. He’s grown four inches since then and is taller than he ever thought he would be. With that have come some injuries – a broken foot derailed him for three months this spring – all of which, he says, have been related to growth.
But the lanky Opelka has also been afforded some unique opportunities. While in New York this summer to play in the US Open Junior Championships, Opelka returned to his cell phone one day to find six missed calls. It was his former coach, Mike Sell, who now coaches John Isner, the 6-9 world No. 14.
Sell’s message: “Get to the court, right now.” Isner needed a practice partner.
“I warmed him up for a match, and his serve – I didn’t think it was going to be that big. I’ve never seen anything like it in my life,” Opelka said. “Anytime you can hit with the best American in the world, it’s a great experience, just to see what those guys do.”
Working with coaches Diego Moyano and Eric Nunez on becoming more nimble, Opelka now says his best surface is clay, which will crunch under his feet as he walks on court Thursday.
“They’ve helped me out a lot – Diego, especially, with the moving part of it these last couple of years,” Opelka said. “And now it’s just been trying to keep me healthy.”
In the girls’ 18s draw on Wednesday, 15-year-old Sofia Kenin followed her first-round upset of No. 4 seed Helen Ploskina with a 7-6, 6-2 victory over wild card Gabriella Castaneda of nearby Miramar, Fla.
Kenin, an Eddie Herr quarterfinalist, also reached the final of the USTA Collegiate Clay Court Invitational event in October, beating four NCAA Division I college players in the event that mixed juniors and collegians.
On Wednesday, Kenin employed sound strategy to down the Florida State-bound Castaneda, who had the physical advantage over the 5-5 Pembroke Pines, Fla., resident.
“I was just trying to keep the ball deep, move her, mix up the pace, because if I go flat-flat with her, she’s going to overpower me,” said Kenin, who trains at the ProWorld Tennis Academy in Delray Beach, Fla. “I mean, I see I can compete at this level. I’m very proud of myself, very much.”
See Wednesday’s full results below. For complete tournament information, visit www.orangebowltennis.org.
Boys' 18s Singles:
No. 1 Alexander Zverev, GER d. Phillip Gresk, POL, 4-6, 6-4, 6-3
No. 2 Johan Sebastien Tatlot, FRA d. Aron Hiltzik, USA, 6-2, 6-3
No. 3 Filippo Baldi, ITA d. Maxime Janvier, FRA, 2-6, 6-3, 6-2
No. 4 Stefan Kozlov, USA d. Nicolae Frunza, ROU, 6-2, 6-2
No. 5 Quentin Halys, FRA d. Seong Chan Hong, KOR, 6-3, 6-2
No. 6 Michael Mmoh, USA d. Deiton Baughman, USA, 6-3, 6-2
No. 7 Roman Safiullin, RUS d. William Blumberg, USA, 6-1, 6-3
No. 8 Naoki Nakagawa, JPN d. Rafael Matos, BRA, 2-6, 7-5, 6-1
No. 9 Marcelo Zormann, BRA d. Henrik Wiersholm, USA, 6-1, 6-7(5), 7-5
No. 10 Kamil Majchrzak, POL d. Danny Kerznerman, USA, 3-6, 6-4, 6-1
No. 11 Lucas Miedler, AUT d. Nam Hoang Ly, VIE, 6-1, 6-1
No. 12 Andrey Rublev, RUS d. Martin Redlicki, USA, 4-6, 6-2, 6-2
No. 13 Francis Tiafoe, USA d. Guy Iradukunda, BDI, 6-2, 6-4
Reilly Opelka, USA d. No. 15 Nino Serdarusic, CRO, 6-4, 6-4
No. 16 Francisco Bahamonde, ARG d. Tommy Mylnikov, CAN, 6-3, 6-4
Weiqiang Zheng, CHN d. Carter Lin, USA, 5-7, 6-3, 6-4
Boys' 18s Doubles:
No. 2 Filippo Baldi, ITA/Lucas Miedler, AUT d. Francisco Bahamonde, ARG/Matias Zukas, ARG, 6-2, 6-3
No. 4 Roman Safiullin, RUS/Nino Serdarusic, CRO d. Phillip Gresk, POL/Jan Zielinski, POL, 7-6(6), 6-3
Fajing Sun, CHN/Zhe Zhou, CHN d. No. 5 Martin Redlicki, USA/Kamoil Majchrzak, POL, 6-3, 7-5
Taylor Fritz, USA/Logan Smith, USA d. No. 6 Naoki Nakagawa, JPN/Sumit Nagal, IND, 6-3, 5-7 [10-7]
Bogdan Borza, ROU/Nicolae Frunza/ROU d. Luke Jacob Gamble, USA/Shane Monroe, USA, 6-4, 6-2
Jordi Arconada, ARG/Tommy Paul, USA d. A.J. Catanzariti, USA/Alex Rybakov, USA, 6-2, 6-3
Julian Cash, GBR/Alex Sendegeya, GBR d. Dennis Uspensky, USA/Julian Zlobinsky, USA, 7-5, 6-2
Aron Hiltzik, USA/Catalin Mateas, USA d. Guy Orly Iradukunda, BDI/Djurabeck, Karimov, UZB, 6-2, 7-6(5)
Girls' 18s Singles:
No. 1 Varvara Flink, RUS d. Ilka Csoregi, ROU, 6-1, 6-3
No. 2 Ivana Jorovic, SRB d. Emma Higuchi, USA, 6-7(2), 6-1, 6-1
No. 3 Tornado Alicia Black, USA d. Jacqueline Cabaj Awad, SWE, 6-3, 6-2
No. 5 Maria Bouzkova, CZE d. Andreea Ghitescu, ROU, 6-2, 6-0
No. 6 Ioana Ducu, ROU d. Bianka Bekefi, HUN, 4-6, 6-1, 6-2
Julia Terziyska, BUL d. No. 8 Johnnise Renaud, USA, 2-6, 7-6(4), 7-5
No. 9 Akvile Parazinskaite, LTU d. Alexis Prokopuik, CAN d., 6-2, 6-2
No. 10 Anastasiya Komardina, RUS d. Katherine Sebov, CAN, 6-3, 6-4
No. 11 Jelena Ostapenko, LAT d. Mira Ruder-Hook, USA, 6-1, 6-3
No. 12 Sandra Samir, EGY d. Katerina Stewart, USA, 6-4, 6-3
No. 13 Renata Zarazua, MEX d. Ellie Halbauer, USA, 7-6(4), 7-6(3)
No. 14 Fanny Stollar, HUN d. Madison Bourguignon, USA, 6-0, 6-4
No. 16 Isabelle Wallace, GBR d. Jessica Golovin, USA, 3-6, 6-2, 6-2
Sofia Kenin, USA d. Gabriella Castaneda, 7-6(1), 6-2
Siqi Cao, CHN d. Emily Arbuthnott, GBR, 6-3, 6-1
Jaqueline Adina Cristian, ROU d. Katarina Jokic, BIH, 6-3, 5-7, 6-4
Girls' 18s Doubles:
Emma Higuchi, USA/Mira Ruder-Hook, USA
d. No. 2 Anastasiya Komardina, RUS/Jelena Ostapenko, LAT, 6-1, 6-3
No. 4 Sandra Samir, EGY/Isabelle Wallace, GBR
d. Rianna Valdes, USA/Cassandra Vazquez, MEX, 7-6(4), 6-2
No. 7 Rebeka Stolmar, HUN /Marie Bouzkova, CZE
d. Jacqueline Cabaj Awad, SWE/Dzina Milovanovic, SRB, 4-6, 6-4 [10-5]
No. 8 Ilka Csoregi, ROU/Jil Belen Teichmann, SUI
d. Andreea Ghitescu, ROU/Daria Lodikova, RUS, 6-3, 6-4
Sofia Kenin, USA/Kaitlyn McCarthy, USA
d. Vasilisa Aponasenko, RUS/Natalia Vikhlyantseva, RUS, 6-2, 6-2
Bianka Bekefi, HUN/Julia Terziyska, BUL
d. Ndindi Ndunda, USA/Chloe Michele Ouellet-Pizer, USA, 6-1, 6-3
Jaqueline Adina Cristian, ROU/Fanny Stollar, HUN
d. Madison Bourguignon, USA/Johnnise Renaud, USA, 3-6, 6-3 [10-2]
Valentini Grammatikopoulou, GRE / Katherine Sebov, CAN
d. Usue Arconada, USA/Renata Zarazua, MEX, 4-6, 6-4 [11-9]
Boys' 16s Singles:
No. 1 Yunseong Chung, KOR d. No. 14 Mert Zincirli, TUR, 6-3, 6-1
No. 2 Chang-Yeong Oh, KOR d. Kalman Boyd, USA, 3-6, 6-1, 6-2
Alfredo Perez, USA d. No. 5 Ulises Blanch, USA, 6-3, 6-3
No. 9 Robert Levine, USA d. No. 6 Eero Vasa, FIN, 6-3, 6-4
No. 7 Stefanos Tsitsipas, GRE d. Kyle Seelig, USA, 6-3, 6-1
No. 8 Soon Woo Kwon, KOR d. Tyler Schick, USA, 6-2, 6-1
Eduardo Nava, USA d. No. 13 Tadas Babelis, LTU, 4-6, 6-3, 6-3
No. 16 Sameer Kumar, USA d. Austin Hussey, USA, 6-3, 6-4
Boys' 16s Doubles:
No. 1 Yunseong Chung, KOR/Chan-Yeong Oh, KOR
d. No. 6 Agustin Moreno, MEX/Gerardo Penchyna Cardenas, MEX, 7-5, 6-4
No. 5 Dimitris Stavropoulos, GRE/Stefanos Tsitsipas, GRE
d. Zeke Clark, USA/Nathan Perrone, USA, 6-1, 6-2
No. 7 Sameer Kumar, USA/Kalman Boyd, USA d. Riki Oshima, JPN/Mate Valkusz, HUN, 7-6(5), 6-2
William Genesen, USA/Soon Woo Kwon, KOR d. Hady Habib, USA/Stephen Madonia, USA, 6-4, 6-3
Girls' 16s Singles:
No. 4 Lisa Ponomar, GER d. Vanessa Wong, CAN, 6-2, 6-1
No. 5 Charlotte Robillard-Millette, CAN d. Diana Dehterevich, BLR, 6-3, 6-2
No. 6 Sofia Sewing, USA d. Elene Tsokilauri, USA, 6-2, 6-1
No. 7 Meghan Kelley, USA d. No. 11 Ojasivee Singh, IND, 6-3, 6-1
No. 12 Nandini Das, IND d. No. 8 Stephanie Nemtsova, USA, 6-2, 6-4
Dominique Schaefer, USA d. No. 13 Sydney Arnea Riley, USA, 6-4, 6-2
Alexis Nelson, USA d. Jaclyn O’Brien Switkes, USA, 6-4, 6-3
Jada Hart, USA d. Madison Appel, USA, 7-6(8), 6-0
Girls' 16s Doubles:
No. 1 Lisa Ponomar, GER/Stephanie Nemtsova, USA
d. Jada Hart, USA/Stephanie Hazell, USA, 6-7(4), 6-3 [10-4]
Ingrid Neel, USA/Dominique Schaefer, USA
d. No. 2 Helen Abigail Altick, USA/Alexa Bortles, USA, 6-4, 6-0
No. 3 Charlotte Robillard-Millette, CAN/Vanessa Wong, CAN
d. Jenna Friedel, USA/Alexis Nelson, USA, 6-1, 6-3
Brienne Minor, USA/Jaclyn O’Brien Switkes, USA
d. No. 4 Sydney Riley, USA/Hada Chang, USA, 5-7, 6-2 [10-4]
For more on junior tennis, and to find a kids' tennis program and facility near you, go to YouthTennis.com.