Opelka Edges Isner In Record-Breaking New York SF
Reilly Opelka displayed unwavering mental toughness and big hitting under pressure on Saturday at the New York Open. The 21-year-old American saved six match points in the second-set tie-break to edge top seed John Isner 6-7(10), 7-6(14), 7-6(4) and reach his first ATP Tour final.
"I didn't put too much stress on myself. It's not the end of the world if I lose. I thought John served unbelievably well, but he's the greatest server of all time, so that's what I expected," said Opelka. "I felt like I was scrapping well and neutralising the ball well."
Isner and Opelka broke the ATP Tour record for combined aces in a three-set match (81), with 43 aces for Opelka and 38 for Isner. They shattered the previous record set by Nick Kyrgios and Ryan Harrison (71) this past month in Brisbane, with 44 aces for Kyrgios and 27 for Harrison.
Opelka improves his FedEx ATP Head2Head against Isner to 2-1 and has won their past two matches, including a first-round victory at this year’s Australian Open for his first Grand Slam main draw win. The pair hit a combined 87 aces in their Melbourne clash (47 for Isner, 40 for Opelka), which saw Opelka win in four tie-breaks. They have now played seven straight tie-breaks, with each man earning one service break each in those seven sets.
"Both of us were serving ridiculously well, so it was always going to come down to that," said Isner. "Essentially, heads I win, tails I lose, and it landed on tails."
World No. 89 Opelka will face qualifier Brayden Schnur for the title after the Canadian fought off five set points in the opening set to defeat sixth seed Sam Querrey 7-6(7), 4-6, 6-3. Schnur also saved match points this week, erasing two in his second-round victory over third seed Steve Johnson.
"[Brayden] has a really good serve, so if I play like I have been, it could be a similar scoreline to today," said Opelka. "It's going to be a tough one."
Neither Isner nor Opelka faced a break point in the opening set. In the tie-break, Isner made eight of nine first-serves and saved set points down 5/6 and 7/8. With Opelka serving at 8/9, Isner claimed the only mini-break of the tie-break with a strong approach to Opelka’s backhand and a solid smash to wrap up the set.
The second set also progressed to a tie-break without any break points. Opelka trailed 4/6, staving off his first match point on Isner's serve with a cracking down-the-line backhand. The 21-year-old erased more match points with clutch hitting at 7/8, 9/10, 11/12 and 13/14. Isner saved the first four set points against him with aces, but serving at 14/15, Opelka rifled a forehand passing shot winner on the run to level the match.
Isner and Opelka earned their first break points of the match in the second and third games of the deciding set, but moved into a final-set tie-break without any breaks of serve. Isner pushed a forehand passing shot just wide at 3/4 and the slight opening was all Opelka needed. The 21-year-old closed out the contest on his first match point and pumped his fist in celebration.