By Craig Ellenport
The Truist Atlanta Open was set to kick off July 25, but COVID-19 forced the cancellation of the tournament. The annual event joined the US Open Series in 2010. While the tournament will not be played this summer, USOpenSeries.com was able to catch up with Reilly Opelka, a semifinalist at last year’s Atlanta Open, to discuss the tournament, the state of tennis in this new normal and life during quarantine.
Reilly Opelka has a soft spot for the Atlanta Open. He made his debut there in 2016 at the age of 18, when he was ranked 837th in the world, and the 6-foot-11 American notched his first three ATP Tour victories before losing to eventual champ John Isner in the semifinals.
Opelka, the tallest player in ATP Tour history, won his first title in 2019 at the New York Open. He upset former US Open champ Stan Wawrinka on his way to a third-round finish last July at Wimbledon. Upon his return to the States, he made his presence felt at the 2019 Atlanta Open with a second-round win against Isner—who had won five of the previous six titles there. The Michigan native who now resides in Delray Beach, Fla., lost to eventual champ Alex de Minaur in the semifinals, but that run helped him crack the Top 50 for the first time. Opelka won his second ATP title earlier this year at the Delray Beach Open, one of the last tournaments before the shutdown. Opelka is currently ranked No. 39.
Q: Given your history at the Atlanta Open, what are your thoughts about the event?
Reilly Opelka: It’s one of my favorites. That’s where I got my first ATP tour-level match win... That was a highlight for me, as a young kid to be in the semis of an ATP event. I beat Kevin Anderson, and he was Top 20 at the time, and Donald Young, who I’ve always watched play. It’s always a special place. I love the tournament. I love the location in midtown there in Atlantic Station. We stay in a great hotel and walk to the courts from an underground parking lot. It really is a good event. It’s one of my favorites.
Q: Are you planning to play in the upcoming US Open Series tournaments—the Citi Open in Washington, D.C. and then the Western & Southern Open and US Open at Flushing Meadows?
RO: Yes, I am. I’ve had a bunch of problems with my knee the last couple of weeks, last couple of months. But I’m starting to get back to training now. I’ll be good to go for D.C.—assuming it happens. I’m still wary. I’d be surprised if I’m actually in New York at Flushing Meadows playing the US Open. I don’t know. I personally am not positive it’s going to happen. I think it should. I want it to happen. Golf has done a great job coming back. Tennis can, and it has. You look at Europe and whatnot.
Q: You played in the UTR events this spring. What was it like playing with no fans?
RO: The event in Miami was good. The UTR one we did early on when all this started was really good. It was in the middle of nowhere, we were outdoors everywhere. The UTR event in West Palm Beach was done so well in my opinion. Personally, I’m over playing tennis without ball kids. I’m eager to play and I’m thankful for the guys that are trying to put these events on. But I really think there needs to be either the system where the system’s calling all the lines or there needs to be refs at every line, and we do need to have ball kids for this to happen. It’s already weird enough having no fans. When you have no ball kids and no line umpires, I think it’s just too extreme the other way, where the fans won’t enjoy it watching on TV.
Q: Can you imagine playing in Arthur Ashe Stadium with no fans?
RO: I’ve never played in Arthur Ashe ever, never even practiced. I don’t know. Maybe. We’re gonna have to. I’d rather do that than not play at all. We’re gonna have ball kids, we’re gonna have line umpires, and that should be good to go.
Q: How do you feel about the precautions being taken due to the COVID-19 pandemic?
RO: We know the risks as players going in. We’re bringing one or two team members. We’re all going to hold each other accountable and be responsible and make the event happen. We’re all going to have to be okay with the risk of getting COVID. As a young, healthy guy, I have a better chance of suffering an injury that could change my life on the tennis court than actually getting something from COVID. As a 22-year-old, I have a better chance of dying on the plane than from COVID.
Q: How has quarantine life been for you these last few months?
RO: I spent a lot of time in L.A. Change of scenery, better weather, not as humid. Honestly, it hasn’t been too different. I’ve been careful, haven’t been around crowds of people. I’ve been going to restaurants, though, eating outside. I’ve been trying to live as normal a life as possible, but taking all things into consideration and being smart. I’m into art, I’m into fashion. I’ve been shopping and looking at art… I’m still not around people much. I can look at art, I can go shopping. I have my mask on and I’m not around anyone.
Q: Being into fashion, what particular item of clothing have you bought during the pandemic that you’re anxious to show off in public?
RO: There’s so much, but I have this jacket, a Bode jacket that I recently bought. Everything I buy has to be custom-made. I custom-ordered it back in October and I just got it.
Q: How about art purchases?
RO: I’ve made some art purchases, but now I’ve had to calm down obviously. There’s not much income without playing and not having prize money. There’s a fine line. I can’t go as crazy as I might have last year on some things. But I still enjoy it.
Q: And it’s safe to assume you’ve been busy on Netflix during this time. What have you been watching?
RO: There’s been a few shows. I really liked "Waco" a lot, I thought that was really interesting. It was unbelievable that that actually happened. I didn’t know much about it. That was a crazy show. "Outer Banks" was good. I watched some anime—"Parasite," another one called "Attack on Titan," and I’m watching another anime right now, "Full Metal Alchemist." Anime is different for me. I love the culture in Japan in general. I went to a lot of art museums and art galleries there, and anime was one thing that was always on display. I kind of got into anime from my time in Tokyo, which I loved.