© Markus Peter, empepress.ch

Reilly Opelka strikes at least 10 aces in each set — and 31 total — to defeat Roberto Bautista Agut in Basel.

Opelka's Ace Barrage Dents Bautista Agut's Race Chances In Basel

American cracks 31 aces, including one stretch of five in a single game

Reilly Opelka dealt a blow to Roberto Bautista Agut’s Nitto ATP Finals hopes on Friday, serving his way past the Spaniard 6-3, 3-6, 6-3 after one hour and 33 minutes to reach the semi-finals of the Swiss Indoors Basel.

Entering the match, Opelka had lost three consecutive matches against Top 10 opposition. But the American crushed 31 aces to upset Bautista Agut, winning 91 per cent of his first-serve points (49/54) in the match and saving three of the five break points he faced.

Bautista Agut, the ninth-placed player in the ATP Race To London, was trying to keep pace with eighth-placed Matteo Berrettini, with both men hoping to earn a spot at the Nitto ATP Finals from 10-17 November. But since Berrettini reached the semi-finals in Vienna on Friday and Bautista Agut crashed out in Basel, the Italian’s lead for the final spot grows to 130 points, and that lead can increase depending on Berrettini's performance the rest of the week at the Erste Bank Open.

Bautista Agut defeated Opelka 6-4, 7-5 in their first FedEx ATP Head2Head meeting just two weeks ago at the Rolex Shanghai Masters. But in that match, the American won just 70 per cent of his first-serve points.

"I definitely served a lot better today. That court against Roberto, I played him in China, is not an easy one to play him on," Opelka said. "That day the court was really fast and it was a little chilly out, so it felt pretty much impossible for me to beat him there. Similar today, honestly. If I didn’t make my first serve, [I] didn’t win the point. So he’s a nightmare."

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It seemed the steady Spaniard was biding his time for his opportunities with consistent play despite his opponent's massive serving at this ATP 500 event. But Opelka, who was broken in his second service game of the match, consistently fell back on his booming first delivery when in trouble.

Entering the week, Opelka overcame a 0/40 deficit just once form 21 tries this season. But the 22-year-old flipped the script in a major way at 5-3 in the opener, when he served for a one-set lead. Opelka hit five consecutive aces from 0/40 to gain the advantage.

And although Bautista Agut dominated on second-serve return — winning 78 per cent of those points, including all seven in the second set — it was not enough. Opelka, who used every opportunity to attack with his forehand during rallies, blasted a forehand down the line to clinch the critical break at 4-3 in the third before serving out his victory. The reigning New York Open champion will face #NextGenATP Aussie Alex de Minaur, who battled past German Jan-Lennard Struff 6-4, 7-6(4), in the last four.

"[Bautista Agut] and De Minaur are two of the guys I always say I don’t want to be anywhere near in the draw," Opelka said.

Each of the three previous times De Minaur won a quarter-final this season (3-3), he went on to win the title. The Next Gen ATP Finals qualifier takes a 3-0 FedEx ATP Head2Head series lead into his semi-final against Opelka, with all three of those matches coming this year.

Like Opelka, Struff based his game off of his serve and powerful baseline game, striking 12 aces and winning 83 per cent of his first-serve points against the Aussie. But De Minaur played splendid defence throughout, putting up a wall that the German was unable to crack often enough. The 20-year-old broke twice in his one-hour, 43-minute victory.

"Whenever you play Reilly, you don’t know what’s going to happen either way. He’s an incredibly tough opponent. He’s one of the toughest opponents out there,” De Minaur said. “It’s going to be another fun match. We’re really good friends, so I’m really looking forward to just being alive [in the draw] another day and coming back tomorrow and being able to play again."

Did You Know?
By reaching the semi-finals, Opelka could potentially receive a special exempt entry into the Rolex Paris Masters, and on Monday he will become the No. 2 American, passing good friend Taylor Fritz.

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