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Reilly Opelka to begin probing million-dollar question at Delray Beach
The 6′ 11” American “really hopes” his right knee holds up after emphasizing the area in the off-season. The 23-year-old will begin his 2021 campaign by attempting to defend his Delray Beach Open crown.
December 31, 2020
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Reilly Opelka knows a thing or two about navigating new circumstances at the Delray Beach Open. This past February, the 6’ 11’’ American was forced to pull double duty on championship Sunday after rain postponed his semifinal. Playing six sets of tennis and saving a match point along the way, Opelka fended off Milos Raonic and Yoshihito Nishioka to lift the trophy at his hometown event.
Eleven months later, Delray Beach is set to launch the 2021 ATP season as part of a restructured tournament calendar. The 250-level event kicks off its main draw January 7 before players head to Australia, where they will be required to adhere to strict quarantine guidelines over a 14-day period. Opelka is guaranteed to retain his Delray points for another year with the ATP’s rankings freeze remaining intact until March.
So what is Opelka’s motivation for opening his season next week?
“I’ve emphasized my body a lot this off-season. So I want to really prioritize going into the year 100 percent healthy,” Opelka told reporters in a pre-tournament Zoom call Wednesday evening. “I think this is just a nice place for me to start. Ranking-wise, I have nothing to gain and I have nothing to lose, which is nice as well. It’s just it’s really gonna be for me to find my tennis.”
Away from Delray Beach, Opelka went 7-8 in 2020. When the ATP tour resumed in mid-August, Opelka took positive strides with a pair of Top 15 wins over No. 13 Diego Schwartzman and No. 8 Matteo Berrettini at ‘Cincinnati in New York’ to reach the quarterfinals. But a right-knee injury forced Opelka to retire with a 6-5 lead against Stefanos Tsitsipas and he would lose in the first round of the US Open five days later to David Goffin.
The 23-year-old, who ended his year after falling to good friend Taylor Fritz in Antwerp, has used the break from tournament play to concentrate on his “stubborn” knee.
“We had to take a lot of time off and spend a lot of time working on it,” Opelka said. “The timing of everything coming at the end of the year was great. Yeah, [I’m] pretty confident in moving forward. I really hope it holds up. That is kind of the million-dollar question for me, how is it gonna hold up?”
Opelka’s desire to get through an entire season with a clean bill of health has adversely impacted his enthusiasm for playing the Australian Open. After making the long-haul trip to Melbourne, players will be permitted to spend a maximum of five hours on site per day during the quarantine: two hours on court, and 90 minutes in the gym. With a limit of two team members per competitor, Opelka and Fritz are pooling their resources after pairing up as hitting partners for week one. For the remaining 19 hours, players are on their own in their hotel rooms, a constraint that has Opelka worried.
“My body hasn’t held up well. I need access to the gym, I need access to my physio,” Opelka expressed. “For two weeks, I’m concerned with the lack of time and work that I’ll be doing, that I’ll be limited specifically for my needs. It would be a shame if I fly down 24 hours on the plane and I don’t get to work that much with my physio for two weeks and don’t get to do the things that a professional tennis player needs to do to be ready to compete.”
For now, Opelka is looking forward to playing in his backyard. Delray Beach will host up to 2,000 fans per session (just under 25% of capacity), the first U.S. tournament to welcome spectators since tennis reopened in August. Among Opelka’s top competition include Raonic, Cristian Garin, John Isner and 2018 champion Frances Tiafoe (former world No. 1 Andy Murray withdrew Thursday due to COVID-19 and travel concerns).
“It’s really nice that some of my friends and family are gonna be able to come out and support and watch,” Opelka said. “It’s completely open to whoever wants to be there.
“I think there’s like four past champions. So a lot of guys that like playing there. I think it’s an incredible field.”