Opelka plays with power on Day 2 of Metropolia Orange Bowl

December 10, 2014 08:56 AM

By Pat Mitsch, USTA
– Here's to all of Reilly Opelka's childhood coaches who couldn't predict genetics.
The 6-foot-10 Opelka, ranked in the Top 50 of the world among juniors for the first time, found his footing on Day 2 of the Metropolia Orange Bowl, overcoming Taipei’s Liang Yu Richard Lin, 6-3, 6-1, in a first-round boys’ 18s match at the Frank Veltri Tennis Center.
It was Opelka’s first match since perhaps the greatest triumph in his young career. The Palm Coast, Fla., native won the boys’ 18s title at the Eddie Herr Junior Championships in Bradenton, Fla., last week, joining the likes of Andy Roddick and Marin Cilic as Eddie Herr victors. This week, Opelka is competing to join only Roddick (1999) and rising Austrian star Dominic Thiem (2011) as players to sweep the Eddie Herr and Orange Bowl boys’ 18s titles in the same year.
That Opelka could achieve such history may have seemed improbable just a year ago, when he entered the Orange Bowl as a wild card, ranked No. 660 in the world among juniors. What’s sparked Opelka’s rapid improvement is that, at 17, he’s embraced his size and has begun to use that towering frame of his to play a little more like those aforementioned US Open champion and a little less like he did growing up.
“I’ve improved a lot in a year,” said Opelka, who trains out of the USTA Training Center in nearby Boca Raton, where he moved when he was 12. “I’d say the biggest difference is that I’m a lot stronger and understanding my game a little more – figuring out how I need to play because, obviously, I wasn’t always 6-10.
“I’ve been playing tennis since I was like, 7, and no one really coached me, especially at the beginning, expecting that I would be 6-foot-10. You have to play a completely different game style. I’m trying to make points as short as possible. Any time I can take a cut at the ball, go for it.”
Opelka’s recent success with that strategy, of course, means he’s advancing further in tournaments and more often playing more physical matches with less time to recover. He’ll face that challenge in his second-round match Wednesday, against No. 4 seed Yunseong Chung, a grinder from Korea who squeaked by Brazil’s Gabriel Roveri Sidney, 3-6, 6-3, 7-6 (3), in the opening round.
“I think it’s all physical,” Opelka said. “Mentally, if you just compete, you have a pretty good idea of what’s been working for you. I think it’s just physically – for me – being ready to go. I have a tough match tomorrow, I think. He’s going to make a lot of balls.”
Shot-making helped Sofia Kenin make an unexpected run to the semifinals here last year as an unseeded 15-year-old. Kenin has improved a few elements in her game in the year since – her serve and on-court movement – to help her overpower opponents, much as she did in her first-round match today, defeating fellow American Jessica Golovin, 6-1, 6-0.
The 16-year-old is seeded 13th in the girls’ 18s draw this year, and a strong showing on the Frank Veltri Tennis Center’s clay this week could help her kick start a 2015 in which she hopes to compete in multiple junior Grand Slams.
“It was really great I could get to the semis (last year) because I didn’t expect that,” Kenin said. “Last year, I didn’t expect to win, but this year I’m going out to try to play good and get my confidence, more and more.”

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