Opelka Beats Top Seed Isner to Reach Atlanta Open Quarterfinals
By Herman Wood
(July 24, 2019) ATLANTA –
Isner v Opelka
At the BB&T Atlanta Open on the stadium court tonight, Reilly Opelka took on champion John Isner. Opelka had a 2-1 record against Isner. He also has Isner by an inch. Opelka is 6’ 11” while Isner is 6’ 10”. Isner’s only win against Opelka was at this tournament in 2016.
Opelka won the toss and elected to serve. A service winner on a second serve, then an ace, followed by a double fault, and another service winner on a second serve came before there was ever a rally. The opening service game ended with an Isner error into the net to give the first game to Opelka. The ace was the only first serve Opelka made. Isner started with an ace, then a double fault due to a foot fault followed quickly by another out of what looked like frustration. He channeled it quickly, bringing another wide ace to even the score at thirty all. A high bouncer for a first serve induced a return error and yet another ace earned Isner a hold to bring the score to a game apiece. The next few featured aces and service winners, with each player holding easily. At four games all, the ace count was 9-8, Isner. The biggest difference was Isner making his first serves at a 62% rate while Opelka was at 47%. They both had won all of their points on first serve. Isner was struggling to win second serve points, only at 38%, while Opelka was at 73% at the 4-5 point in the match with Isner to serve his fifth service game. Service holds continued, with little challenge through six games apiece and the expected tiebreak with these two competitors.
In the tiebreak, Isner made a mess of a volley early. It made the difference in the tiebreak and the set. Opelka got another Isner serve back, forcing Isner to make another volley that he sent right back for Opelka to hammer a pass. Set to Opelka, 7-6 (2). Isner was very frustrated in the tiebreak.
Isner began the second set serving and got pushed by Opelka. The frustration seemed to be gone, as he not only served well, but played ground strokes and volleys with more confidence despite having to dig out of a hole to hold his serve. Frustration did not seem apparent in Isner’s demeanor. The second set looked much like a replay of the first until the eventual tiebreaker. In the tiebreaker, Opelka handed a mini break to Isner early. Isner seemed confident that he would be able to simply serve it out. Apparently, his confidence wavered and he got a bit careful with a second serve and handed the mini break back when Opelka pounced on the short offering. Opelka apparently felt generous, giving the opportunity back again to Isner with a double fault, who was happy to have the second chance and closed the tiebreaker 7-5 to even the match at a set apiece.
Isner seemed to be getting a feel for the Opelka serve at the start of the deciding set, winning the first two points, but Opelka made Isner hit one more shot in rallies and he missed long to give Opelka the hold. Isner seemed unhappy with something in his strokes, seeming to indicate he was pushing the ball. Whatever it was, it was not apparent in his subsequent service game, taking it at love and bringing the set to a game apiece. The aces and service winners kept coming, though there were few rallies early in the set but more as the third set wore on. Isner had chances to break Opelka in his last service game, but Opelka served his biggest at 136 mph and got the hold. Isner served the match to the deciding tiebreak.
Opelka got an early mini break and held his serve to 6-3. Opelka almost won it on a let cord that fell back. Isner served at 4-6, again on the brink. A return by Opelka forced him to go for a big shot and it was a winner to put pressure on Opelka to close the deal, serving 6-5. A first serve missed, but a second serve was good enough to put Isner on defense and Opelka went for a pass and sent the champ home.
Opelka said about Isner, “In the late second and third, he was returning a lot better.” As to if he felt any pressure on the break points, “I hit some of my best serves late in the match.”
The match seemed just a shot away for both men all night. The only statistical difference that was in double digits was in Opelka’s favor in second serve points won.
Reilly Opelka beat Atlanta Open defending champion and top seed John Isner 7-6(2), 6-7(5), 7-6(5).
Opelka is now 3-0 against Isner in 2019 and 7-3 in tiebreaks.
A doubles match with Jack Sock and Jackson Withrow playing Daniel Evans and Jordan Thompson went on the stadium court after this match. The match that would have glued the Atlanta crowd to its seat late into the night had already been played at a packed grandstand court at 5 pm this afternoon. It featured the Bryan brothers playing Chris Eubanks, formerly of Georgia Tech, teaming with Atlantan Donald Young. Atlanta is a doubles town, and the crowd appreciated the blasts from the local guys from the baseline against the amazing hands of the Bryans at the net. Apparently, the brothers’ commitment to their band playing this evening, combined with their not playing as was originally scheduled last night had something to do with the afternoon time for the match.
The first set of this match was tight, with the Bryans and the local guys each having to face a deciding point in service games. The Bryans won both and took the first set 6-3. On the Bryans’ service game decider, Young had a pass lined up but framed the attempt out of the stadium.
The second set did not start well for Young or Eubanks. Each faced a deciding point on their serve and the Bryans’ veteran experience helped them take full advantage. Mike stepped to the line to serve the match out 5-2 and the crowd was soon treated to the customary flying chest bump, 6-4, 6-2 match to the Bryans. The brothers stayed until every fan that wanted got a selfie, autograph or ball. Bob’s young daughter and son helped their dad hit balls into the stands, to the delight of fans.