Opelka Ousts Top Seed Medvedev At St. Petersburg Open

WASHINGTON, October 16, 2020 (by Michael Dickens)

With the Nitto ATP Finals a month away, the Battle for London is focused on this week’s ATP 500 St. Petersburg Open in Russia, where both Denis Shapovalov and Andrey Rublev are in the chase for the final two berths in the year-end championship that begins in mid-November.

On Thursday inside Sibur Arena, both the No. 2 seed Shapovalov from Canada (currently in 12th place in the ATP Battle for London standings) and No. 3 seed Andrey Rublev of Russia (in 10th place) were in action, each playing for 45 rankings points. Matters went well for both players as each won to advance to Friday’s quarterfinal round.

However, the same can’t be said for No. 1 seed and defending champion Daniil Medvedev, who took on hard-serving American Reilly Opelka and lost in three sets, 2-6, 7-5, 6-4. The testy Russian promptly smashed his tennis racquet before he packed up his belongings and made a hasty retreat off the court, while the 23-year-old Opelka basked in the spotlight while celebrating arguably the biggest win of his young career.

First things first, the 12th-ranked Shapovalov looked battle-ready and played focused tennis during his 66-minute 6-1, 6-4 victory over the 141st-ranked qualifier Ilya Ivashka of Belarus to start the day on Center Court. The Canadian fired eight service aces, won 82 percent (32 of 39) of his first-serve points, saved all five break-points he faced and broke Ivashka’s serve three times. He outpointed his opponent 55-40. On Friday, Shapovalov will face No. 5 seed Stan Wawrinka. So far, the 18th-ranked Swiss has been pushed to three sets in both of his earlier matches, against Dan Evans and Evgeny Donskoy.

Meanwhile, the 10th-ranked Rublev was pushed considerably by No. 38 Ugo Humbert of France with a berth against Great Britain’s 75th-ranked Cameron Norrie awaiting the winner. Rublev came from a set down and rallied for a 6-4, 7-5 victory. Despite 14 service aces by Humbert, a key service break in the 11th game of the final set – the Russian’s third during the two hour and 13-minute match – enabled Rublev to serve out the win.

Among those already qualified for London, the 24-year-old Medvedev seemed a safe bet to reach the quarterfinals – and for a set, things looked good for the World No. 6 against the No. 36 Opelka. After all, Medvedev broke his 6-foot-11-inch opponent twice and won the opening set 6-2. From there, however, the margins were tighter and Opelka saved all five break points he faced during the remainder of the one hour and 55-minute match that completed the afternoon session.

From 30-all in the final game, Opelka won the final two points, including a demonstrative cross-court forehand winner on match point – his 35th winner of the match to go along with 11 service aces – to break Medvedev. His triumph – which improved his win-loss record against Top 20 opponents to 6-6 – moved him into Friday’s quarterfinals against No. 7 seed Borna Coric of Croatia, who advanced with a 6-3, 7-5 win over Russian wild card Roman Safiullin, 6-3, 7-5.

During an on-court interview in the spotlight afterward, Opelka said, “It is always a tough match, playing one of the best players in the world in general, but especially at [his] home. [It is] a great win for me.

“It was ugly for the first set-and-a-half. I felt like I barely won any points on his serve, but part of that is just because of my opponent. Daniil is an absolute nightmare to play, especially for a guy like me because he just runs every ball down.”

Around the St. Petersburg Open

In night session second-round matches on Thursday, No. 4 seed Karen Khachanov went the distance against 117th-ranked Russian wild card Aslan Karatsev before prevailing 4-6, 7-5, 6-3, in two hours and 16 minutes; and 2015 St. Petersburg Open champion and No. 6 seed Milos Raonic from Canada advanced over No. 52 Alexander Bublik of Kazakhstan, 6-3, 6-2. Raonic served nine aces and won 71 percent (42 of 59) of his service points. He broke Bublik three times in four tries and was not broken during their 66-minute match.

Khachanov and Raonic will meet in Friday’s final quarterfinal match.

What they’re saying

Reilly Opelka loves to collect modern art. So, when he was asked by a reporter during his press conference after his Thursday win against Daniil Medvedev a question about art, Opelka was very receptive. He said he’s excited to go to Antwerp next week because the Tim Van Laere Gallery there shows some of his favorite modern artists — Friedrich Kunath, Ben Sledsens and Rinus Van de Velde.