The pool of American tennis players at the top of the rankings is rather small, but there is hope for the future thanks to some big talent. That includes Reilly Opelka, a 25-year old that has burst onto the scene to become one of the most talked about players in the world. Opelka is a fascinating player, and there’s more to him than meets the eye. Here are 10 things that you didn’t know about tennis’s gentle giant.
1. He’s Tied For The Tallest Pro Tennis Player Ever
Compared to sports like soccer, tennis players are typically taller than the average person. Out of the top players in the world, the average male tennis player stands at 6’2”, well above average. Reilly Opelka blows that number out of the water, though. Opelka stands at 6’11”, which makes him tied for first in the list of tallest players ever to make the ATP rankings. The only other pro player at that height is Ivo Karlovic of Croatia. Karlovic was one of the best servers in tennis history and had his best Grand Slam performance in 2009 by reaching the Wimbledon quarterfinals.
On the shore of Lake Michigan in the southwest part of the state, you’ll find Reilly Opelka’s hometown of St. Joseph, Michigan, where he was born on August 28, 1997. Opelka didn’t live in St. Joseph for very long (moving when he was just four years old), but this town does have a unique distinction. Not only is it the home of Opelka, but also supermodel Kate Upton. For a town of just around 8,000 people, that’s pretty impressive. Other notable St. Joseph residents include author James Frey and news anchor Amy Robach.
3. He’s Searching For His First Grand Slam Quarterfinals
When it comes to grand slam tournaments, it’s never easy to make it to the quarterfinals as it’s usually comprised of the eight best tennis players in the world. Reilly Opelka has come very close to reaching the quarterfinals in all four grand slams but hasn’t gotten there just yet. The farthest that Opelka has made it during a grand slam was at the U.S. Open in 2021 when he made it to the fourth round. As for the other three grand slams (Wimbledon, French Open, Australian Open), Opelka has made it to the third round in all of them before bowing out.
4. He Made The Top 20 For The First Time in 2021
When he first turned professional in 2015, Reilly Opelka found himself just within the top 1,000 in the world rankings. Since then, Opelka has worked his way up the ladder, and broke the top 200 for the first time in 2017 and then the top 100 a year later. Opelka reached the highest echelon of tennis players in the world in 2021 when he reached the top 20 for the first time in his career, getting ranked as high as 19th. Since then, Opelka has increased his highest career ranking, making it up to 17th in early 2022 before falling out of the top 20 in August.
5. His Best Friend is Taylor Fritz
Playing against your best friend in a sports setting can be difficult, especially with both of you trying your hardest to win without creating any bad feelings. Reilly Opelka’s best friend is fellow professional Taylor Fritz, with Opelka serving as the best man for Fritz’s wedding. On the court, however, the two have matched up against one another six times. These matchups haven’t been great for Opelka, though, with Fritz winning five of those six meetings, most recently at a 2021 tournament quarterfinals match in Atlanta, Georgia.
6. His Biggest Junior Win Came Against Fritz, Though
Despite Fritz holding the head-to-head advantage in their professional careers, the biggest win that Opelka got during his junior career came against his best friend. At the 2015 Junior Wimbledon, Fritz was the number one ranked junior in the world. When they met up at Wimbledon, Opelka was able to knock Fritz out of the tournament on his way to the finals. In the championship match, Opelka faced off against Mikael Ymer and took home the title before turning pro the following season in 2016.
7. One Practice Changed His Career
Most professional athletes have that day or moment where things start to turn around for them and their careers face an upward trajectory. It wasn’t a tournament or single match for Opelka that helped boost his ranking, though, but rather a practice session. While in Rome, Opelka said he had gotten off to a slow start on the season, but at one practice “I told my coach I would not leave the court that day until my forehand was figured,” he said. “We stayed out on the court for hours and hours. And that was the most productive practice of my life.”
8. He Isn’t a Fan of Tennis Journalists
While athletes having their opinions about sports journalists is extremely common, few have been as vocal about their disdain for the media as much as Opelka. While at the U.S. Open, Opelka fired off on journalists, saying that they “are terrible, they’re bad, some of them seem to be there just to criticize.” Opelka added that journalists “don’t know anything about tennis.” Opelka even sounded off on Twitter in regards to Novak Djokovic, saying that the media has a “personal hatred and obsession” toward the tennis legend.
9. He Wishes He Played Basketball
Because of his tremendous stature, there are many that would assume that Opelka would be more interested in a basketball career rather than tennis. In a candid interview, Opelka reveals that he wishes he would’ve gone that route due to the salary disparity between NBA and tennis players. “If I was a mediocre basketball player, a top 20 NBA player, I’d be making $28 million a year,” Opelka said. “Instead, I’m grinding, traveling the world and making much less…If you are the eighth man on the (Chicago) Bulls, you are making more than the guy who’s No. 8 in the world (in tennis).”
10. He Has Four Singles Titles So Far
While grand slam titles haven’t been easy to come by for Opelka, he’s still found success as a singles player with four total titles. His first as a professional came in 2019 when he defeated Brayden Schnur in the New York Open in three sets. Since then, Opelka has won the 2020 Delray Beach Open, the 2022 Dallas Open, and most recently the 2022 U.S. Men’s Clay COurt Championships.