There was no awe or “just happy to be here” from Palm Coast’s Reilly Opelka Saturday when playing maybe the greatest male tennis player of all time.
The former Indian Trails Middle School student acquitted himself well in the semifinals of the Italian Open against 20-time Grand Slam champion Rafael Nadal, but one loose service game in each set proved the difference.
Nadal, by far the greatest clay court competitor of all time, broke Opelka once in each set and grabbed a 6-4, 6-4 victory in Rome.
For Opelka, now up to No. 35 in the world rankings, the match was a huge opportunity to measure himself against the 12-time French Open champ and a man likely to break a tie with Roger Federer at 20 Slam titles at the upcoming French championships in two weeks.
Opelka entered the Italian Open on a six-match losing streak, and recovered from a recent bout with Covid-19, and had a sensational week.
With nothing to lose against Nadal, Opelka came out strong, and had his best chance of the match in the fourth game of the first set. The 23-year-old secured four break point chances against Nadal, but the crafty Spaniard saved them all to hold.
And then, as happens so often with Nadal, he immediately broke Opelka’s serve to go up 3-2, and that was all he needed to keep the advantage and win the first set.
In the second set, Opelka, who has to be the only ATP player ever wearing a sponsor’s patch from an art gallery (he has become friendly with Tim Van Laere, a Belgian artist who runs the Tim Van Laere gallery in Antwerp), again played just one rough service game, and Nadal pounced, breaking in the fourth game to go up 3-1.
Opelka was never able to get a break point in the second set, although at 5-4 with Nadal serving for the match, Opelka got to 15-30.
Still, Nadal finished strong as he almost always does, and Opelka moves on to play in Geneva next week, the final tuneup before the French Open.
Opelka drilled 11 aces against Nadal, while the Spaniard’s key stat was winning 84 percent of his first serve points.
And playing Nadal for the first time, and acquitting himself well, certainly will be a confidence boost to Opelka moving forward.
— Michael J. Lewis for FlaglerLive
None shall sleep,
None shall sleep!
Even you, oh Princess,
In your cold room,
Watch the stars,
That tremble with love
And with hope.
But my secret is hidden within me,
My name no one shall know,
On your mouth, I will tell it,
When the light shines.
And my kiss will dissolve the silence that makes you mine!
(No one will know his name and we must, alas, die.)
Vanish, o night!
Set, stars! Set, stars!
At dawn, I will win!
I will win!
I will win!
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