Former Palm Coast resident Reilly Opelka lost a five-set heartbreaker in the second round of the Australian Open tennis tournament Tuesday night into Wednesday morning in Melbourne.
The 21-year-old Opelka, coming off the biggest win of his young career two days earlier, dropped a thriller to Thomas Fabbiano of Italy, 6-7, 6-2, 6-4, 3-6, 7-6 on Court 13.
Opelka, a 7-footer who has recently risen into the Top 100 of the ATP Tour for the first time, played 3:32 of close play, smacking a career-high 67 aces (21 in the first set alone), but couldn’t quite win his second Slam match in a row.
The fifth-set tiebreaker, played under a new format this year that sees the first player getting to 10 points and winning by two as the winner, saw Fabbiano jump out to a 7-2 lead and then hang on for a 10-5 victory.
Opelka had a huge edge in winners, 97-33, but because he dictated most of the points, also led in unforced errors, 67-26.
Opelka, a former Indian Trails Middle School student, was playing in the singles main draw of a Grand Slam for only the second time, and acquitted himself well again on Tuesday night on Court 13.
Just like in Opelka’s first-round match, the first set started with very few chances for either player to break.
It ended, predictably in a first-set tiebreak, an epic one at that. It took 32 points to decide the winner, with Opelka finally taking it, 17-15.
He hit 21 aces in the first set alone, a crazy-high number.
Fabbiano, a veteran ranked No. 100, rallied to take the next two sets, breaking Opelka’s 140-miles per hour serve three times in the process.
But Opelka rallied to force a fifth, breaking Fabbiano in the fourth game of the fourth set, and the final set came down to just a few points going the way of the Italian.
Opelka’s ranking now soars into the low 90s, a new career high, as he heads back to America. His new ranking should get him into bigger and bigger events as 2019 has gotten him off to a strong start.