Former Indian Trails Middle School student Reilly Opelka continues to slowly move up the ranks of the pro tennis tour, and Sunday notched yet another title.
The 21-year-old former Palm Coast resident capped off a terrific week of play by capturing the Knoxville Challenger singles title in Knoxville, Tenn., beating fellow American Bjorn Fratengelo, 7-5, 4-6, 7-6 (2) to grab the crown.
The 7-foot Opelka, who turned 21 in August, has as usual missed some time with illness and injuries in 2018 (he came down with mononucleosis in June and that knocked him out of action for two months) but has turned in a stellar year when he’s been healthy, and Sunday’s win vaulted him up to No. 116 in the world, his career high. (The Challenger Tour is tennis version of Triple-A baseball, the top rung of “minor league” tournaments).
He’s now within shouting distance of getting his first main draw entry into a Grand Slam; he needs to move up to around No. 100 to get automatically placed in the upcoming Australian Open, in January.
In five tournaments since the U.S. Open, Opelka, whose parents George and Lynn still live in town, has reached a pair of finals in Chicago and Cary, N.C., and has now claimed a championship in Knoxville. It has been a career-year for him, who also added a clay-court crown in Bordeaux, France, in May. He is the sixth player to win on both clay and hard in 2018.
Now coached by former top ATP pro Jay Berger and Jean-Yves Aubone, Opelka didn’t drop a set on his way to the finals in Knoxville.
“I wouldn’t even celebrate (reaching the) Top 100, if we’re being honest,” Opelka told ATPworldtour.com after the match Sunday. ” That’s not my long term goal. Yes, it would be nice. I’m pleased with how I’m playing now and my main goal is to stay healthy and put in a really good offseason.”
Opelka, who won $10,800 with the Knoxville win, will be playing this week in another Challenger in Champaign, Ill.
–Michael J. Lewis for FlaglerLive