© Reilly Opelka

One of Reilly Opelka's biggest hobbies off the court is fashion.

Reilly Opelka: Fashion & A New York State Of Mind

Opelka is defending champion at the New York Open

Reilly Opelka made ATP Tour history with fellow American John Isner in the semi-finals of last year’s New York Open. Opelka not only rose to the occasion in his first tour-level semi-final, but he soared to it, crushing 43 aces. With Isner’s 38, they set the record for most combined aces in a three-set match (81).

But you’d never expect what happened after the match.

“It was Fashion Week [in New York City] that week, [so] I was going to fashion shows every night,” Opelka told ATPTour.com. “I finished my match with Isner exhausted, tired. My coach was so mad at me because I finished, didn’t stretch much, and just got in an Uber, headed into the city and made a fashion show. I went to a few [that week].”

For some players, rushing to a fashion show after a semi-final might be problematic, especially with a championship battle the next day. But for Opelka, it was exactly what he needed to maintain a relaxed mindset with the trophy on the line just hours later.

“I was in a great state of mind,” Opelka said. “I’d played enough tennis and I hit enough balls and I had enough practice and enough repetitions that I could have gotten away with it. It’s also about knowing when is the right time to do it.”

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Those who watch the 6’11” right-hander play see him blasting aces on the court. But once he puts his racquets in his bag, fashion is one of Opelka’s biggest hobbies. “Some of my close friends are working in fashion and it’s just something I’ve always liked. I’ve had an interest in it,” he said.

Eight months later, at the Rakuten Japan Open Tennis Championships in Tokyo, Opelka advanced to the semi-finals at the ATP 500 with straight-set wins over good friend Taylor Fritz, former Top 10 player Gilles Simon and home favourite Yasutaka Uchiyama. That result was no coincidence.

According to the American, Tokyo is the “menswear fashion capital of the world”. While he enjoyed it, Opelka approached the scene differently upon arriving in Japan.

“I got injured at the US Open… I stayed for two weeks, recovered, got home, started off slow and I wanted to get [to Tokyo] early, get acclimated to these conditions. I knew I needed practice, I needed reps, I needed time. So I was hitting an hour and a half in the morning, an hour in the afternoon, doing fitness, so I didn’t have much time [to explore],” Opelka said. “From that standpoint, when you’re pushing your body that much, it’s important to recover. That’s a time where I knew I needed reps, I needed to hit balls. As tempted as I was to head into the city and check out the stores here, because I hadn’t really done it yet, I was pretty disciplined.

“Once I got my practice week finished and everything, the last three or four days I had some good times in the city. It’s just about knowing when. At the end of the day, it is my job. I like to be professional. I don’t like to waste a week, especially coming all that way.”

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Opelka was not returning to the tournament hotel with countless bags of clothing. He simply loved checking out what the city’s fashion stores had to offer.

“I’m not kidding, they only have like men’s small here [in Tokyo]. From that standpoint, I’m not shopping, looking to buy anything for myself. I’m just looking,” Opelka said. “This is literally the mecca for menswear.”

Opelka is not the only player on the ATP Tour who is into fashion. Federer was named GQ’s Most Stylish Man of the Decade. One of the Swiss’ friends, Vogue’s editor-in-chief Anna Wintour, frequents tennis tournaments.

“I’d love to [meet her]. For sure [it’s on the bucket list],” Opelka said. I follow Harper’s Bazaar, I read a lot. I read all different types of outlets from that [fashion] standpoint.”

Opelka isn’t sure if he’ll ever get into designing. But the American wants to stay close to the industry even after his still-young tennis career is over.

“I don’t know if I would start my own [brand] for example, but I’m into it. I also like learning. I like the business side of things. Once my tennis career is over, that’s for sure the direction I’ll head in,” Opelka said. “I love New York and I go to the city a lot. New York is one of the main hubs for it in the States, especially the Soho area, Tribeca, more downtown in the city. That’s where I like spending a lot of my time. When the season’s over, even though it’s freezing cold, as soon as I get back from Paris or wherever, I go to New York. I spend a week in New York.”

Opelka’s hobbies aren’t one-dimensional, though. He is also a self-proclaimed “foodie”.

“In New York, I was eating good. I love this restaurant called Moreia. I love Italian. I was ordering an Italian dish there as well, Gnocchetti. Carbone is really good there. I was going to Per Se. I was eating ton of good foody spots pretty much every night. Le Coucou is another one,” Opelka said.

Will you catch the big man cooking, though?

“Absolutely not,” Opelka said. “Zero chance. Never.”

For now, Opelka will stick to cooking up aces. He enters this year’s New York Open as the World No. 40, 49 spots higher than last year when he lifted the trophy.

And if a routine works, don’t change it. On Sunday evening, Opelka took to Instagram to show the world where he was: a fashion show.

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