Opelka Beats Isner In Historic Tie-Break To Reach Dallas Open Final

Reilly Opelka (photo: Dallas Open/Alex Smith)

DALLAS/WASHINGTON, February 13, 2022 (by Michael Dickens)

Coming into Saturday’s first all-American semifinal at the Dallas Open between two of the top three seeds, No. 2 Reilly Opelka and No. 3 John Isner, 11 of the 13 sets they had played in their four career head-to-head matches had been decided by tie-breaks. So, it should come as no surprise that the outcome of their latest match would be decided by – what else? – a tiebreaker.

Opelka held a 3-1 edge, including the three most recent wins – all of them coming in 2019. Now make it 4-1 after he beat Isner, 7-6 (7), 7-6 (22), in two hours and one minute to advance to Sunday’s final of this inaugural ATP 250 indoor hard-court tournament in North Texas.

The 46-point, epic second-set tiebreaker played before an enthusiastic sold-out crowd packed inside the 2,500-seat stadium court of Styslinger/Altec Tennis Complex at Southern Methodist University was the longest in a tour-level match since the start of the ATP Tour in 1990. Opelka’s mini-break on his eighth match point closed out the victory over Isner and ended a run of 26 straight points on serve. Isner saved 10 set points along the way.

Looking back, what’s remarkable – but not totally unexpected – about this match-up of tall, big-serving Americans is this: Opelka and Isner have now played 12 consecutive tie-break sets and there have been no breaks of serve in their past 98 games.

“John and I, we’re no strangers to 7-6 …” Opelka opined during his on-court interview after Friday’s quarterfinal win against No. 5 seed Adrian Mannarino of France, as if he could foresee what would likely happen when they met in Saturday’s first semifinal. “It’s going to be a fun match against John. I think the best part about this is we have four Americans in the semis, so you’re guaranteed an all-American final and an American will lift the trophy, which is great.”

The 50-minute opening set went to Opelka 9-7 in a tie-break as he saved a set point with his 19th ace and set up his second set point with his 20th ace. Opelka won with a down-the-line backhand winner to cap a four-shot rally.

Next, there were six love holds between the two as they reached six-all in the second set to set up what would evolve into an epic, 46-point tie-break that had everyone on the edge of their seats.

Once it had ended, the two combatants combined to serve up 60 aces – 39 by Opelka and 21 from Isner. Opelka has now won 10 of 13 tie breaks against Isner and he’s into the title match without facing a single break-point chance all week.

“I lost track,” Opelka said after he was asked to describe what it was like to play in an historic tie break, in which there were were an unprecedented seven changes of sides. “At one point it was 21-all … that’s something I’ve never seen before, but if it was going to happen, it certainly would have been in this match.

“It just shows how clutch he is,” Opelka added, speaking of Isner’s effort during the semifinal match. “I had some house money being up a set. He didn’t, and he hit some unbelievable spots on his serve down match point.”

During his on-court interview after his semifinal victory, Opelka, 24, gave props to the 36-year-old Isner, as someone whom he admired growing up. “John was my favorite player growing up as a kid; he still is to this day,” he said. “I think the world of him. The first time I met him I was like 15-years-old.

“He’s been an unbelievable leader to all of the young Americans. He’s a true professional. There’s only been four players, I think – active players – who have been Top 20 for a decade straight. John’s one of them and I think you know who the other three are.” Opelka was alluding to Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic. “It’s a pretty remarkable stat that doesn’t get talked about enough.  He’s one of the greatest, definitely the top American for the last decade. He’s a really special guy, even better off the court.”

The Dallas Open began the week with 14 Americans in the 28-player draw. Now, it’s down to just two. Opelka will face No. 4 seed Jenson Brooksby, the ATP Newcomer of the Year for 2021. It’s an all-American final Sunday following Saturday’s all-American semifinals, which occurred for the first time since 2004 in an ATP event.

The 54th-ranked Brooksby advanced to his second career ATP Tour final with a 6-4, 6-7 (4), 7-6 (5) victory over No. 7 seed Marcos Giron, ranked 70th. The two-hours and 53-minute match was the longest of the tournament.

At a set each and on serve through the first 11 games of the final set, Brooksby fought off four match points during a tension-filled 14-point 12th game. He held serve after Giron backhanded the 10th shot of a back-and-forth rally into the net to force a decisive tie-break.

Soon, Brooksby gained a match point of his own at 6-5 after hitting a swinging forehand volley for a winner coming into the net. Then, wasting no time, he won on his first match-point opportunity after Giron hit a third-shot forehand return that clipped the net and errantly bounced away. Brooksby survived a great fight, which will likely lift him into the Top 50 next week. He outpointed Giron 123-119 to set up a showdown with Opelka.

“Brooksby is one of my favorite players to watch, probably my least favorite player to play,” Opelka said after his win over Isner. “Giron is a great player as well. He’s worked extremely hard to be where he’s at.”

Around the Dallas Open

No. 1 seeds Jean-Julien Rojer of the Netherlands and Marcelo Arevalo-Gonzalez of El Salvador advanced to Sunday’s doubles final with a 7-5, 7-6 (4) win over unseeded Sam Querrey and Jackson Withrow, both of the United States.

Rojer and Arevalo-Gonzalez will face Lloyd Glasspool of Great Britain and Harri Heliovaara of Finland, who rallied past American pair John Isner and Jack Sock, 6-7 (4), 7-5, 10-8.

Saturday’s Dallas Open results

Sunday’s Dallas Open order of play

By the numbers

Reilly Opelka‘s 39 aces in Saturday’s first semifinal was just six shy of the record of 45 for a best-of-three match and he did it without committing any double faults. .He hasn’t faced a break in his three matches this week. Both Opelka and John Isner won more than 85 percent of their first-set points (Isner won 89 percent and Opelka 87 percent). There were no break points during the semifinal match and total points were even 89-89.

• Opelka has reached four ATP Tour finals, all of them in North America. With his win over Isner, he denied the Dallas resident of reaching his 30thATP Tour title match.

Jenson Brooksby is yet to lose to an opponent lower-ranked than him at tour-level (4-0). His victory over Marcos Giron lifted him into his second ATP Tour final after making the 2021 Newport title match in his just third tour-level event.

“Quotable …”

“It just shows how much we love playing in front of you guys, playing in front of the U.S. crowd. Being at home, I wish we had more weeks like this. But we make the most of them while they’re here.”

– No. 2 seed Reilly Opelka of the United States, addressing the sold-out crowd at Friday’s Dallas Open night session during his on-court interview.