Reilly Opelka Notches Healthy Victory in Chicago Semifinal
(September 8, 2018) CHICAGO – Reilly Opelka wasn’t feeling so hot early in the summer. At Wimbledon qualifying, he posted a second round loss to fellow Next Gen player Hubert Hurkacz. A week later, he exited the Winnetka tournament after winning only six games against Tom Jomby.
“Something was wrong with me,” said Opelka. “At Wimbledon, I was cramping. I played at Winnetka at night, I couldn’t hold serve” – an unusual occurrence for the nearly seven footer. “I lost 4 and 2, went home, full body cramped. Got blood work done: it was mono. Which made sense, I wasn’t surprised.”
Opelka missed nearly two months before recovering in time to play U.S. Open qualifying, where he lost to fellow Next Gen player Miomir Kecmanović in three sets.
“I was actually happy we caught it,” Opelka said, “because a lot of guys have that for years and don’t even know, and it just ruins them. So playing healthy is huge.”
Opelka, a Midwest native who lives in Florida, beat Dominik Koepfer of Germany 6-3 7-6(3) to advance to the final of the inaugural Chicago Challenger, part of the Oracle Challenger Series. In doing so, he becomes the early men’s point leader of the series; the American who accumulates the most points over this and the next three series events will receive a wild card to the Indian Wells tournament in March 2019.
“I love playing all the Oracle events, especially here in Chicago where so much of my family is,” said Opelka. “I had my aunts, uncles, and cousins here today, which is nice.”
The semifinal, in windy and chilly conditions, came down to three games. Serving at 1-1 in the first set, Opelka went down 0-40, then held without hitting a first serve, saving break points with an unreturned kick serve, a serve-plus-forehand winner, and a serve-plus-backhand winner to get back to deuce. Then returning at 3-4 in the set, Opelka feasted on Koepfer’s second serve, hitting a backhand return winner to set up his only break point of the match, which he converted on a Koepfer double fault.
The final key game was the final game: after going down a minibreak (1-2) in the second set tiebreak, Opelka rattled off six of the last seven points with some blistering groundstrokes to win the match.
Opelka will return to the Top 150 after the tournament; a win in Sunday’s final would give him a new career high ranking inside the Top 125.
Next up, Opelka will face Uzbekistan’s Denis Istomin, a 6-1 6-2 winner over Bjorn Fratangelo. Istomin didn’t face a break point until the final game, during which he saved three against the erratic American. Istomin arrives in the final without having been broken all week.
The WTA $125K final will feature Petra Martic of Croatia and Mona Barthel of Germany. Martic won by score identical to Istomin’s (6-1 6-2, in case you skipped the previous paragraph) over Tatjana Maria (GER), while Barthel received a walkover from Sachia Vickery (USA), who withdrew from the tournament with a knee injury.
The first champions of the Chicago Oracle Series Challenger were men’s doubles second seeds Neal Skupski and Luke Bambridge, who beat top seeds Leander Paes and Miguel Angel Reyes-Varela 6-3 6-4.
“When we walked on court, I said [to Skupski], ‘If we take care of our serves today, we’ll win the match,’ because I knew we’d have opportunity on returns,” said Bambridge. “I know Leander is very, very crafty and can manipulate returns, so serving well and taking care of the first ball after the serve was very important.” And that they did, not even being forced to deuce on their serves.
It was the second consecutive title for the British pair, who also won at the Vancouver Challenger in August. They each lost in the first round of the U.S. Open, with different partners.
Asked about whether they’ll be a long-term pair, Skupski said, “It’s very difficult at the moment because I normally play with my brother,” Ken Skupski. “But I really enjoy playing with Luke, we’ve played three tournaments together and have won two of the three, and lost in the semifinals in Aptos. With Ken, he’s a lot older than me, six years older (35), and he’s coming to the end of his career. So it’s nice to see different options and Luke’s definitely my first option. He’s an up-and-coming British doubles player, and he won his first ATP tournament this year in Eastbourne. If he’s available to play, he’s my first option.”
In women’s doubles, Barthel teamed with Kristyna Pliskova (CZE) to beat Asia Muhammad and Maria Sanchez 6-3 6-2. To add to the disappointment of losing, the Americans were forced to withdraw from singles qualifying in Quebec City due to playing Chicago, although they’ll still play doubles together.
Jonathan Kelley is in Chicago covering the Oracle Challenger Series tournament for Tennis Panorama News.