Last Updated: 6:02 p.m.
Until this week, Reilly Opelka had never won a match at Roland Garros, the second Grand Slam of the year in tennis.
The slow, red clay hasn’t been conducive to the 7-footer’s power game of huge serve and forehands. But over the past few months the 23-year-old has shown he’s becoming quite fond of the dirt, and his results are really starting to show.
Seeded for the first time in his career at a Grand Slam, Opelka powered his way into the third round Wednesday in Paris, overcoming a tough Jaume Munar in four sets, 6-3, 6-2, 3-6, 7-5.
The No. 32 seed Opelka, a former Indian Trails Middle School student whose name is set to adorn the revamped Palm Coast tennis center, will have a challenge in the next round no matter who he plays: On Friday he’ll face world No. 2 Daniil Medvedev, who Opelka beat last fall in Russia and has had three close matches with in his career.
“Yeah, I’m excited. I’m thrilled,” Opelka said at his post-match press conference Wednesday. “I’ve only been in the third round once before in Wimbledon (in 2019). My body was in much worse condition than it is now. It’s just a testament to how hard I’ve been working in the gym. It just shows that I’m getting better.”
Against Munar, Opelka, resplendent in a pink FILA shirt provided by his sponsor appeared to be on his way to an easy victory on Court 12, breaking Munar (ranked No. 72) four times in the first two sets.
But the 24-year-old Spaniard battled back and broke Opelka’s serve in the third set and again in the fourth, forcing Opelka to dig deep.
The match turned again at 4-all in the fourth, during a 10-minute game, when Opelka saved four break points to hold. Finally on serve at 5-6, he played a terrific game and then won match point on a Munar double fault.
Opelka finished with 18 aces, 61 winners and 55 unforced errors, and in recent interviews, and again after the match Wednesday, credits some technical changes he’s made to his forehand, for his improved results.
“My forehand is improving. At the rate I think it’s going, I think there’s still so much more room to grow, which is exciting for me, it really is,” Opelka said. “I go into each practice very excited to test it, to try to improve it. I’m thinking on new things.
“My brain’s kind of thinking in a different way now, especially when I’m constructing points from serving. I’m so much more calm because I have so much more confidence, so much more trust in my forehand. Like I said, I know there’s still room for improvement, which is, like, exciting for me. I think about it all the time. I’m thinking about how I can get better.”
Jean-Yves Aubone, one of Opelka’s coaches, told FlaglerLive in an interview before the tournament that Opelka’s strong showing getting to the semifinals of the Italian Open in May and losing to Rafael Nadal, 6-4, 6-4, was encouraging.
“We took away (from Rome) that he can beat anybody on any surface at any time. He lost 4 and 4 while having his worst 1st serve percentage in a long time,” Aubone said. “His game is there to compete with the top guys. It’s now about maintaining the level so when he gets to the later rounds, he’s able to beat the top seeds.”
He very well may get that chance at a top seed in Medvedev, who has been almost unbeatable on other surfaces but, like Opelka, had never won a French Open match coming into this tournament.
— Michael J. Lewis for FlaglerLive.