Opelka Wins UTR Pro Match Series Title

WASHINGTON, May 10, 2020 (by Michael Dickens)

The first professional tennis tournament of the new normal – racquet taps instead of handshakes, no ball kids or linesmen, no spectators, plenty of social distancing – concluded Saturday at the UTR Pro Match Series in West Palm Beach. Fla. The two-day, four-player exhibition contested on a private hard court in a country club-like setting, was won by 39th-ranked Reilly Opelka of the United States.

While the peaceful quiet and tranquility of the surroundings was in stark contrast to the usual atmosphere found at many tennis events, it was a welcome opportunity for the players who were chosen to compete – Opelka, No. 29 Hubert Hurkacz of Poland, No. 47 Miomir Kecmanovic of Serbia and No. 57 Tommy Paul from the United States. After all, it was their first competition in two months. The weekend event also gave a worldwide TV audience something to watch and cheer about, and it provided everyone a glimpse of what might become the manner which tennis is conducted in the months ahead.

In Saturday’s championship final, Opelka, who resides a short drive down I-95 in nearby Delray Beach, defeated Kecmanovic, who lives and trains at the IMG Academy in Bradenton on Florida’s Gulf Coast, 4-3 (2), 2-4, 4-2. Opelka set up match point with his 11th service ace of the match, then won it on his second match-point opportunity with a rocket serve that Kecmanovic returned wide, which gave the American the title. Overall, Opelka appeared the best player over the course of both days. Although, maybe a little worse for wear by the end, he came out and played like a champion.

“It’s been a long day but it feels nice,” said Opelka during a post-match interview with Tennis Channel, which broadcast each match during the two-day series. “I’ve been only practicing an hour, hour-and-a-half max, and today was pretty hot. It definitely got to me. So, I think my quarantine 15 (pounds gained) was definitely holding me down today. Given the circumstances, when you don’t play matches for a while, it’s a completely different animal. It’s hard to train … I’m definitely sore, and I haven’t felt this tired in a while, but I’m not going to complain about being tired.”

Over two days, Opelka won three of his four matches (which includes the final). Coupled with his title at the ATP 250 Delray Beach Open in February, this was the second crown that Opelka has won this year in Palm Beach County. During round-robin play, Opelka went 2-1 and compiled a 27-17 win-loss record in total games played. Kecmanovic finished second at 2-1 (22-17), Hurkacz took third at 2-1 (20-18), and Paul was fourth at 0-3 (13-30).

Hurkacz defeated Paul, 4-1, 0-4, 4-1, to capture the third-place match, which was played before the title match. The day began with Hurkacz keeping his hopes for a spot in the final alive when he beat Opelka, 4-2, 1-4, 4-2. However, Kecmanovic overtook Hurkacz as he rallied to beat Paul, 3-4 (6), 4-1, 4-1. Although both Kecmanovic and Hurkacz finished with 2-1 win-loss records, Kecnamovic advanced to play Opelka thanks to having a better winning percentage in total games played.

Before his final against Opelka, Kecmanovic was asked about his level of motivation after being sidelined like everyone else on the ATP Tour for two months. “Even though it’s not an ATP Tour event, for sure it’s exciting to be back competing even though it’s just the four of us,” he said. “This was a really fun experience to be here.”

After the final, Opelka was asked to reflect on the significance of the UTR Pro Match Series tournament – the first of its kind and the first pro sporting event of any kind in the U.S. since the coronavirus outbreak grounded American sports in early March – which helped usher pro sports back into the public eye in a safe way.

“It’s a great step, it’s great for the fans, great for people who aren’t necessarily tennis fans that had something to watch,” said Opelka. “Maybe, it was their first time to watch tennis. I think the other three guys, we couldn’t have gotten a better group. The level of tennis was pretty high because we’ve all been able to train. I think UTR took advantage of this time and put on a great event.”