Opelka Knocks Out Five-Time Atlanta Champ Isner
There were 64 aces, five break points saved and one upset of a five-time BB&T Atlanta Open champion.
Opelka saved three break points while serving at 5-5 in the third set, including two consecutively from 15/40 as he served his way out of trouble. The 21-year-old American also beat Isner at the Australian Open and en route to his maiden ATP Tour title at the New York Open in February.
“I was clutch on big moments in the match. First-set tie-break I played unbelievable, pretty much flawless, hit some great shots,” Opelka said. “John is just so consistent with his serve. It's so hard to play three tie-breaks with him because there's just so much pressure, there's so much stress for three hours straight. It's tough. I'm thrilled to get through.”
Isner was the two-time defending champion and had reached the Atlanta final in nine of his 10 appearances. He also made the 2012 semi-final. The World No. 14 won his fourth Hall of Fame Open title on the Newport grass on Sunday.
“It's his tournament. It always will be. Definitely a tough guy to beat in Atlanta,” Opelka said. “I'm really happy that I was able to find a way to win.”
Their New York Open semi-final featured a record number of aces (81) for an ATP Tour three-set match, and while they fell short of a new mark, to the surprise of no one, the mammoth serves of the 6'10” Isner and the 6'11” Opelka dominated play.
Opelka didn't lose a first-serve point in the opener (17/17), but Isner rallied in the tie-break to force a decider. The top seed saved two match points on his serve from 3/6 in the third-set tie-break. But Opelka had to do more than serve to finish off the crowd favourite.
Isner returned a second serve well and came in strong behind a forehand approach. But Opelka let loose on a backhand pass and followed it up with a forehand winner for his third win in four tries against Isner in their FedEx ATP Head2Head series. Eleven of their 13 sets have been decided by tie-breaks, including all 10 this year, seven of which have been won by Opelka.
The 2016 Atlanta quarter-finalist will next face Brit Daniel Evans, who saved 15 of 19 break points against Moldovan Radu Albot to advance 7-6(5), 5-7, 6-2. Evans also overcame 10 double faults to reach his third tour-level quarter-final of 2019 (Delray Beach, Eastbourne).
#NextGenATP Aussie Alexei Popyrin beat fourth seed Pierre-Hugues Herbert 7-5, 6-3 to make his first tour-level quarter-final. The 19-year-old Sydney native saved all six break points and will meet Brit Cameron Norrie, who eased past South Korean qualifier Soonwoo Kwon 6-3, 6-4.
Popyrin is currently in 11th place in the ATP Race To Milan, which will determine seven of the eight players who will compete at the Next Gen ATP Finals, to be held 5-9 November in Milan. The eighth spot is reserved for an Italian wild card.