in the highest final in history, the icy Reilly Opelka wins

In the final of the 110th edition of Fayez Saforim & Co. US Men’s Clay Court Championship, and the one that counts the largest number of centimeters in the history of ATPon the fields of the River Oaks Country Club the n. 18 of the ATP rankings e tds n. 3 of seeding Reilly Opelka, who got the better of the stars and stripes derby on tds n. 4 John Isner (No. 27 of the world, but from Monday it will be 23) with a score of 6-3 7-6 (7) in more than an hour and forty of matches. In the final act of the Texan tournament, which did not see two American tennis players involved in the 2003 final in which Andre Agassi won a comeback over Andy Roddick 3-6 6-3 6-4, the Michigan giant hits fourth career success, the second in 2022 after the one obtained on American soil but on the hard indoor Dallas against Broosby. After the problem with his right shoulder, with consequent retirement in Miami, the 24-year-old from St. Joseph regains the polish of the beginning of the season at the first appointment on red and at the third final of 2022 (two consecutive, after the one he won in Texas he arrived the ko with Norrie in Delray Beach) – the sixth in total – wins his first tournament on clay (the previous 5 he had played all on hard court and as many of his 6 finals he played in his own country). With this affirmation, the balance of the direct matches reads a peremptory 4-1 for the youngest of the two exponents of overseas tennis. Reilly has in fact won the last three challenges: in 2019; 3 sets to 1 at the Australian Open, comeback in the semifinals of the ATP 250 in New York; and this year again in a penultimate act at the ATP 250 in Dallas in two sets – with the longest tie-break in history staged. Curiously, the 9 sets played in these three direct matches all decided on the decisive game. Only in the first H2H, the only one won by Isner, in the 2016 Atlanta semi-final there were two sets out of the three of the match that did not end at deciding game. But both were won by Isner, who got the better of just after losing the first in the tie-break. So the first set of today’s match was the first of five matches against Long John, which Opelka didn’t win at the tiebreak (the first of 13 sets). In the final in Houston the difference was the improved mobility of the No. 18 of the rankings and the icy coldness with which he did not crumble, but rather proved mentally intact in an impressive way in front of the 7 break points and the three set points (all in the tie-break) had by the former n. 8 in the second fraction. On the other hand, for the North Carolina native, the seventeenth career title fades, which would have been the second on clay after the one he won here in Houston in 2013, (in the final on Almagro) to the fourth career final on crushed brick. In addition to the already mentioned in Texas, to which is added also that of 2012 with Juan Monaco, Isner also lost one in 2010 against Querrey in Belgrade.

[3] R. Opelka b. [4] J. Isner 6-3 7-6 (7)

THE MATCH – The first set sees its turning point in the eighth game, when with Isner serving, suddenly and incredibly the first three break points of the match for Opelka appear, among other things in a row; after that in the previous seven games there had been only one, in favor of the ’85 class of North Carolina. In this game, the substantial physical gap between the two players on the pitch comes out clearly; when the exchange starts it is always the 24-year-old from Michigan who gives the feeling of being able to win the point. Confirming the 12 years younger and the enormous progress made by the native of St. Joseph in lateral displacements but also in mobility in the vertical coverage of the field, displayed in recoveries on the opponent’s frequent short balls. While on the other half of the network, no. 27 of the ranking tries to shorten more exchanges, as soon as he can, with services followed at the net and drop-shots that allow him to play as much as possible on two, maximum three shots. Reilly, for his part, mainly leverages the backhand along the line to move Big John, forcing him to do the wiper on the right side to ensure that he goes to hit the forehand without sufficient stability on the supports, and consequently losing effectiveness. Thanks to this scheme, and to the complicity of the Greensboro native who misses a comfortable forehand volley on 0-15 and not full, he also commits an unforgivable unforced with the right to the open field, he flies to 0-40 on 4-3 in his favor. The former n. 8 of the ranking, with great courage he finds by canceling all three opportunities, in reality on the first one the demerits of n. 18 ATP that wastes badly by sinking the forehand in the middle of the net. On the other two, however, John is very good first with a perfectly executed serve & volley and then with a winning first. Unfortunately for him, he gives the youngest player a fourth chance on the pitch with a bloody mistake from the right side, and then completes the mess with a straight cue also caused by an impromptu gust of wind. Opelka does not let himself be begged and seals the first partial at 30, making an impeccable use of the one-two and in particular of the second service with which he was well able not to be attacked and not to suffer the opponent’s response for the whole the fraction, always managing to find depth with this fundamental when he found himself playing it.

In the second part, (which is characterized, as far as environmental conditions are concerned, by a considerable increase in the presence of the god Aeolus), on the other hand, the performance drops a lot with Opelka’s fundamental starting game, which however is very good at finding it promptly in surgical way in crucial moments. In fact, in his first three service rounds of the second set, he cancels two break points per game (so 6) up to 3-3. While on the other hand Long John, also benefiting from the fact of serving first with respect to the inaugural fraction, risks nothing and also gives some magnificence near the network. Truly superfine touches ranging from caressed demi-volleys to elegant damping, and which demonstrate how the little hand at tds n. 4 of the seeding has never failed. But the winner of Miami 2018 knows perfectly well that he needs to realize some chance in the rebound if he really wants to try to reopen the final, to try to hunt for the seventeenth career title. Reilly, for his part, continues to joke with fire, but when he feels the first sensations of strong heat, he always pulls the best possible version of his bolide out of the hat as if by magic, shattering any possibility of break. However, as told to the giant n. 2 of the stars and stripes tennis likes to suffer and then remove the chestnuts from the heat when the ball is hotter. Because in this way there is more taste, or that enjoyment caused by sublime pleasure. And here he scoffs at the seventh break point in the fraction for Isner at 4-3 against. At this point three interlocutors games follow with relentless serves, up to 5-5; where in the sixth round at the beat of the set for the former top 10 the first chance in rebounding in favor of the 24 year old of 2.08 meters materializes. But here comes out all the experience and the charisma of Big John, who climbs 6-5 through two consecutive aces (the first outside from the right and the second in the center from the left). But do you think there may not be a tie-break in the highest challenge in history? Impossible, Opelka holds to 0 and the deciding game it served. The balance is broken in the fourth point, when on 2-1 for the tds n. 3 of the board, the mini-break comes following the modus operandi which allowed Opelka to break in the first set; or the reverse. He pushes very well, first crossing and then going long-row with the bimane shot and the next right in Isner’s race does not pass the net. John remains stuck holding the next serve. Then Opelka wastes everything, shooting into the net a backhand down the line advancing to an unguarded field where he had thrown a very powerful first. He reaches 5-4, this time it is the 36-year-old American who gets a mini-break with a phantasmagoric backhand response that punches the opponent who came forward. At 6-5, after Opelka canceled the first set point with the serve; Isner throws the second, serving, to the wind, sending a forehand demi-volley to the net after following the first at the net thanks to a sumptuous response, low in the feet, of the opponent’s backhand. The 24-year-old from Michigan also cancels a third set ball at 6-7 with an excellent serve-forehand combination, despite the fact that he hadn’t put in the first, which however was well replaced by a second of great substance. And in the end, by not taking advantage of the opportunities you have, such as 7 break points in the second set and three set points in the tie-break, in the long run there is a real risk of paying for the missed chances. Well, on 8-7 Opelka, a racy backhand response closed the Texan tournament as John’s backhand counter-leap volley went wide in the corridor. Opelka closes their match with 10 aces, against Isner’s 8; but above all with an extraordinary 8/8 on saved break points (one in the first set and 7 in the second).

THE STATEMENTS OF THE TWO PROTAGONISTS DURING THE AWARDS – the finalist, John Isner: “Thank you all. It was great to see you in the stands this week. Maybe this is true edition was the best. The audience was extraordinary and we felt at home from the first to the last day. Congrats to Reilly, you keep beating me huh (general laughter from the audience). It was unique to face you in the final. Thanks to the sponsor and to all those who really made this edition of the tournament special. Thanks also to the Ball Boys, you have been and always are very important. I enjoyed all the hospitality from start to finish. Finally thanks to all my team“.

The winner, Reilly Opelka: “Thanks to the large audience present for the whole week. The atmosphere and energy of the fans was important. Thanks to my team, my family. It was an incredible experience. Thanks to the sponsors, the Ball Boys and all those who gave their all to make this edition of the tournament so beautiful ”.

The 24-year-old American also added words to honey for his opponent in the final, citing some of John’s stats that bring him closer to Federer Nadal and Djokovic. Like for example the fact of having won titles on all surfaces (of the 16 conquered, 11 arrived on the fast, 4 on the grass – all in Newport – and one on clay).

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