Opelka, Brooksby Lead American Charge On Day 1
The final image of Reilly Opelka's first match win at the US Open was an exuberant fist pump and smack of the chest. After battling for two hours and 51 minutes, the American finally fought past a dogged Fabio Fognini on a warm Day 1 in New York.
Opelka outlasted the 11th seed 6-3, 6-4, 6-7(6), 6-3 to emerge victorious for the first time at Flushing Meadows. He fired 26 winners and converted five of 15 break chances to progress to the second round on a packed Court 17.
The Florida native was made to work, having relinquished the lead twice in the third set - up 4-3 and serving for the match at 6-5. Fognini would save a match point in the ensuing tie-break but it was Opelka who hit top gear in a hurry in the fourth set.
"It's tough. You expect that from a guy who was Top 10 in the world," Opelka told Brad Gilbert after the match. "He made me dig deep and find a way in the fourth set. This is my favourite court to be on and everyone stayed the whole time. They kept the energy up and helped me through. I didn't serve my best today, but it shows I have more than that in my game. I did well from the baseline."
The New York Open champion closed out the win on his second match point. It marks Opelka's third Top 20 win at a Grand Slam this year, following his victories over John Isner at the Australian Open and Stan Wawrinka at Wimbledon.
He will next face Dominik Koepfer, who defeated Jaume Munar 6-4, 7-6(2), 5-7, 7-5 in his US Open debut. The German qualifier has been finding his form on the ATP Challenger Tour in recent months, rising to a career-high No. 113 with a title in Ilkley and final in Aptos.
One year ago, Jenson Brooksby entered his first Grand Slam as a wide-eyed 17-year-old, having received a main draw wild card as a junior. He would fall in straight sets to John Millman. Now, after earning his way into the US Open via qualifying, Brooksby is making the the most of the opportunity. The California native claimed his first tour-level match win with a 6-1, 2-6, 6-4, 6-4 upset of former World No. 4 Tomas Berdych on Court 13.
The incoming freshman at Baylor University emerged victorious after two hours and 27 minutes, striking 45 winners to dismiss Berdych. At No. 394 in the ATP Rankings, Brooksby is projected to rise more than 100 spots to a career-high in the Top 300. Berdych is on the comeback trail after being sidelined for most of the past 14 months due to a back injury.
"This feels great, it's amazing," Brooksby told ESPN following the match. "Getting three matches under my belt in qualifying definitely loosened me up. It helped a lot.
"I've all those guys like [Berdych] since I was 10, something like that. But I'm just one of these players now. I didn't put too much thought into it. He just said 'good match and good luck in your career'. He's a very nice guy."
Brooksby will seek another milestone victory on Wednesday, facing his first Top 20 opponent - 17th seed Nikoloz Basilashvili. The Georgian defeated Marton Fucsovics 3-6, 6-4, 6-2, 3-6, 6-3 in three hours and 41 minutes to advance on Day 1. He improved to an impressive 5-1 in five sets in his career.
In other action, Denis Kudla earned a 3-6, 6-1, 7-6(5), 6-1 win over Janko Tipsarevic to kick off play on Court 12. It was the American's third match win at the US Open, setting a second-round meeting with another Serbian - 27th seed Dusan Lajovic. Tipsarevic, meanwhile, bade farewell to the US Open after 14 appearances and a pair of quarter-final finishes (2011-12). He announced he will retire at season's end.