Reilly Opelka, the ‘Servebot,’ Is a Threat at the US Open

  • Reilly Opelka, a 6-foot-11 American, has won his first two matches of the US Open.
  • Ahead of the Open, John McEnroe said he saw the big-serving Opelka as “dangerous.”
  • Opelka is having the best season of his career and may be close to a breakthrough in a major.

An American man has not made the US Open final since Andy Roddick in 2006, but Reilly Opelka is starting to threaten an end to that steak.

The 24-year-old won his first two matches of the US Open, beating South Korea’s Soonwoo Kwon and Italy’s Lorenzo Musetti in straight sets on Tuesday and Thursday.

Opelka, ranked 24th in the world, has had the strongest season of his young career. He made it to the semi-finals at the Rome Masters in May, then made it to the final at the Rogers Cup in Toronto in August, where he lost to second-ranked Daniil Medvedev.

Opelka also tied his longest run at a major by making it to the third round of this year’s French Open.

Prior to the US Open, tennis legend and ESPN analyst John McEnroe told reporters that he viewed Opelka as “dangerous” at this year’s tournament.

“I think mentally he’s made some real progress, competing a lot more consistently” McEnroe said, via Tennis Now. Of the American men’s players, he called Opelka “the most dangerous.”

McEnroe said Opelka is the type of player that he would not have wanted to play during his career.

At 6-foot-11, Opelka is known for a powerful serve that routinely reaches 130 miles per hour and beyond. According to the ATP, Opelka ranks second in average aces per match and third in service points won.

Opelka has even taken to calling himself a “servebot” — that is, a player who routinely hits aces and holds serve, making for a somewhat duller match with fewer good rallies.

At a recent press conference, Opelka said that he, John Isner, Milos Raonic, Kevin Anderson, and Ivo Karlovic are “first team all-bot.” Opelka joked that while Nick Kyrgios also holds serve a lot, he is too exciting of a player to be first team all-bot.

Opelka seems to have jumped to a new level recently, however, because of the game around his serve. As Forbes’ Adam Zagoria noted, Opelka showed all-round ability in the final game against Kwon — he finished off his opponent with a forehand volley, backhand volley, and forehand groundstroke. This, on top of a 136-mph ace in the final game.

For a player of his size, he moves well, something that has doomed other tall players with powerful serves. Against Musetti, Opelka made a swift recovery to the net, then hit a spinning volley to set himself up for the point.

Opelka told reporters before the Open that the past year has also made him stronger mentally — one of the greatest challenges in a one-on-one sport.

According to the ATP, Opelka said that although he prefers to play in front of fans, “I’ve gotten used to playing without them. I think I got to really work on my mindset in that time.”

But Opelka also said he wants to see how he’s fairing after a few matches before deciding whether he’s broken through to another level.

“One thing that’s nice is that I’m seeded this year,” Opelka said, via The New  York Post’s Marc Berman. “That makes a world of a difference. I’m definitely much further along from that, but I haven’t made a second week of a slam. I’ve got to test my body to see what happens with four 3-out-of-5-set matches. That’s the only reason why I say I don’t know if I’m ready. I’m not being negative. I’m just being realistic.”

A win on Saturday — against an opponent still to be determined — would push Opelka to a level he’s never reached in a major tournament. It may also put the rest of the field on notice.

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