FLUSHING MEADOWS, N.Y. – Reilly Opelka’s 22nd birthday is probably one he’ll be forgetting pretty quickly.
The former Indian Trails Middle School student injured his back-during his second-round U.S. Open match and wasn’t ever able to get into a groove, falling in straight sets to Dominik Koepfer, 6-4, 6-4, 7-6 (2) on Armstrong Stadium.
Playing on his birthday and in only his second main-draw U.S. Open match, Opelka had his normally-impenetrable serve broken once in each of the first two sets, then wasn’t able to hold a 3-0 edge in the third set in falling to Koepfer for the first time in four meetings.
“My body let me down,” Opelka said. “It didn’t recover at all after the match with Fognini. My left hamstring and my back. I’ve been feeling it the last two days.”
Because of the day-long rain here Wednesday, Opelka’s match was moved from a daytime start on Court 17 to a night match under the lights on Armstrong Stadium, the second-biggest court here and the largest venue Opelka had played on as a pro.
“I was hoping it’d be (rained out), give my body an extra day to recover,” Opelka said.
Opelka was in for a fight from the start, needing seven minutes to hold serve in the opening game of the match.
Both players held serve until 4-all in the first set, when facing break point, Opelka netted a forehand, giving Koepfer the first edge. The German then held serve to close out the opening set.
Then early in set two Koepfer, who had lost three close matches to Opelka on the Challenger (minor-league) tour the past two years, played a fabulous return game to break Opelka at love.
Down 4-3 in the second, Opelka took a medical timeout and left the court with a trainer; prior to exiting the trainer seemed to be stretching out Opelka’s lower back.
“It’s just killing me,” Opelka said. “If I’m healthy I like my chances every time in this matchup. I took the timeout but there’s just not much you can do at that point. I had trouble bending and I started compensating.”
After a three-minute break, Opelka returned to the court but seemed to be moving gingerly. He hung in and forced Koepfer into a long game at 5-4, but Koepfer held on and had a two sets lead on Armstrong Stadium.
Still, Opelka didn’t go down quietly. In the third set Opelka finally broke Koepfer’s serve and looked to be on the right track when he went up 3-0.
But the 25-year-old Koepfer, pounding forehands and smacking 39 winners in the match, battled back to even the set at 3, and from there both players held serve until the tiebreak at 6-all.
In the breaker Opelka, who had 48 winners Wednesday, including 24 aces, won the first point but couldn’t grab the lead, and bowed out, 7-2.
A despondent Opelka said he hoped the back injury wasn’t serious, but believed he needed “at least a few weeks off” from tennis to recover.
Opelka was making his U.S. Open main draw debut this year, another in a season-long line of accomplishments that saw him win his first ATP Tour-level title, at the New York Open in February, and reach a career-high of No. 42.
Coming off a four-set upset of No. 11 seed Fabio Fognini on Monday, Opelka was facing an opponent Wednesday night he’d defeated three previous times on the ATP Challenger Tour, tennis’ version of the minor leagues. Koepfer was ranked No. 118 when the tournament began.
— Michael Lewis for FlaglerLive