Opelka Beats Brooksby To Win Dallas Open

Reilly Opelka (photo: Dallas Open/Alex Smith)

DALLAS/WASHINGTON, February 14, 2022 (by Michael Dickens)

The inaugural ATP 250 Dallas Open was a smashing success on and off the tennis court and will be remembered not only for its all-American lineup in Sunday’s singles final, which paired No. 2 seed Reilly Opelka from Florida against No. 4 seed Jenson Brooksby of California, and included a sell-out crowd that cheered appreciatively for both finalists.

It will also be remembered for its celebrity VIP guests, too. First, former World No. 1 Naomi Osaka dropped by the Styslinger/Altec Tennis Complex a week ago in conjunction with her rap star boyfriend Cordae’s Dallas show. Then, on championship Sunday, former U.S. President and Dallas resident George W. Bush garnered plenty of attention. Sitting courtside with his wife, former First Lady Laura Bush, Mr. Bush was seen shaking hands with both players before they walked out on court, then participated in the ceremonial coin toss. On court, the former president seemed amused by Opelka’s 6-foot-11-inch height as he stood next to the gentle giant during a pre-match photo opportunity.

It all added up to a festive atmosphere for the only U.S. indoor tournament on this year’s ATP calendar. By the way, there was some quality tennis on display from both Opelka and Brooksby, too. This year’s Dallas Open singles title was won by Opelka, who put on a serving clinic during his 7-6 (5), 7-6 (3), title victory that ended after an hour and 52 minutes. It culminated a week for Opelka in which he won all 46 of his service games and faced just one break point the entire tournament.

Both players arrived at Sunday’s title match appearing in their first ATP Tour final of the season. Each brought with them an impressive CV. For Opelka, that meant being first on tour with 21.8 aces per match and leading the tournament with 84. For Brooksby, he was 10-0 when facing Americans. By the end of the day, Opelka would finish the inaugural Dallas Open with an even 100 aces, but Brooksby’s unblemished record against his countrymen would take a hit.

In their second career head-to-head meeting following last year’s first-round matchup at Antwerp, won by Brooksby in straight sets, it should come as no surprise that there would be tie-break sets involved. After all, they seem to follow Opelka regardless of the opponent. Fortunately for him, there was no repeat of the record-breaking 46-point tie-break that he and John Isner shared during Saturday’s semifinal round.

With neither side budging throughout the 52-minute opening set, after each player put 100 percent of their first serves in play, it was decided by a tie-break that was won by Opelka. First, he gained a mini-break at 4-2 after Brooksby missed on a mid-court forehand return that he pushed into the net. Then, Opelka got another mini-break after Brooksby hit a forehand return long. It was the kind of advantage Opelka was looking for. His seventh ace gave him four set points to play with. Brooksby saved three of them thanks to a trio of hitting errors. However, Opelka put away the tie-break 7-5 after Brooksby halted a 10-shot rally with an errant groundstroke return.

Then, on serve through the first 10 games of the second set at 5-all, Brooksby fought off four break points by Opelka and persevered through a 16-point game to hold serve despite committing three double faults. Next, Opelka responded with a love hold and it was on to another tiebreaker.

In the second-set tie-break, Opelka showed off his power, dominated Brooksby with his steadiness and, soon, won the title match. He gained a match point at 6-3 with a two-fisted backhand down the line that Brooksby was unable to get a racquet on. Then, Opelka closed out the title victory with a cross-court backhand winner coming into the net. It put closure on one last seven-shot rally and gave Opelka his first ATP Tour singles title since winning Delray Beach in 2020.

“I thought I played very well under pressure, especially against a great player like Jenson,” Opelka said during a trophy ceremony interview. “He makes you very uncomfortable and he took me out of my comfort zone a lot of the match today. I really had to play my best tennis to get by and I barely did.”

Opelka won with finesse as much as he did with power. He finished with an 88-percent efficiency rate (42 of 48) in winning points on his first serve to go with 16 aces and hit just one double fault, his first all tournament. Meanwhile, Brooksby served two aces and hit three double faults. He won 80 percent (49 of 61) of his first-serve points and saved all five break points he faced. Opelka outpointed Brooksby 83-75.

After the match, Opelka, 24, paid tribute to his 21-year-old fellow American. “I’m a big fan of his game, a big believer in him,” he said of Brooksby. “He’s super young and he’s got a lot of tennis ahead of him still. The scary thing is he has a lot to even improve on and I think that’s why he’s a future Top 10 player and he’s going to be winning many titles for many years to come.”

The 54th-ranked Brooksby, who was appearing in his second ATP Tour final in the last seven months – and a year ago was ranked No. 315 – will move up to No. 45 in the new ATP Rankings. Opelka rises up from twenty-third to No. 20 and remains the American No. 2.

“I thought I competed better and it’s definitely a really good week to build off of going into the future,” Brooksby said.

Now, Opelka heads home to Delray Beach, Fla. for his hometown tournament, the Delray Beach Open, where he will be seeded second. In the meantime, he can enjoy a few well-deserved days off, thanks to a first-round bye, before facing either American wild card Jack Sock or Germany’s Daniel Altmaier in the second round. Brooksby is seeded sixth and will play a qualifier in the first round. Being in opposite halves of the 28-player draw, it’s entirely possible the two could meet again in a week in the Delray Beach Open final. Stay tuned.

Arevalo and Rojer win Dallas Open doubles title

Top seeds Marcelo Arevalo of El Salvador and Jean-Julien Rojer of the Netherlands won their first doubles title as a team with their 7-6 (4), 6-4 win over Lloyd Glasspool of Great Britain and Finland’s Harri Heliovaara. The final lasted an hour and 27 minutes.

Arevalo and Rojer won 81 percent of their service points and saved all three break points they faced.

“We’re super happy about this title,” Arevalo said. “This is our first title together. We’ve been doing great things together. We started the year playing great, maybe not having the best results or the results we wanted, but we kept working together as a team, working on those little details. We started seeing those results that we wanted.”

Rojer added: “We’re hoping to have a good year together. The biggest thing for us is to keep working. We’re a new team, so normally how this goes [is] you put in a lot of work and results come and go, but hopefully we’ll get on a stretch where results start happening for us. It certainly did this week.”

Opelka, Isner reflect on history-making tie-break

During Saturday’s first all-American semifinal, No. 2 seed Reilly Opelka and No. 3 seed John Isner played the longest tour-level singles tie-break in ATP Tour history (since 1990). Opelka won the tie-break 24-22, which gave him a 7-6 (7), 7-6 (22) victory to advance to Sunday’s Dallas Open final.

The two big-serving Americans have now played 12 straight sets that have been decided by tiebreakers. Opelka has won nine of them. During Saturday’s epic, Opelka saved 10 set points against Isner and finally put away the match on his eighth match point opportunity with a backhand up-the-line passing shot. During their two-hour and one-minute match, they combined for 60 service aces.

From Opelka’s perspective, he said: “It was bizarre. It’s just next point, kind of back to the guessing game. I’ve got to take care of what I do and hopefully guess right. And I did. I guessed wrong a lot, obviously. He was in more points than I was. I really hit some big shots. I stayed tough, I also served extremely well. I was very clutch.”

Meanwhile, Isner opined: “At a certain point it just becomes back and forth, but I also had a set point on my serve. Couldn’t convert. I probably had an 85-percent chance to win that point on first serve if you look at the stats, maybe more. .And [it] didn’t happen. Then, it became the back and forth out there after that point. I actually felt like I was the one getting more returns in play and I just tightened up a bit when I did get returns back in play and got it to neutral.”

By the numbers

• Before Saturday’s 46-point tie-break between Reilly Opelka and John Isner, won by Opelka 24-22, the longest tie-break in ATP Tour history had lasted 38 points. It happened seven times, most recently at Auckland in 2020 between Leonardo Mayer and Marco Cecchinato, won by Mayer 20-18.

Reilly Opelka came in seeking his third ATP Tour title and second at this event, after winning it in 2019 (when it was the New York Open). With Sunday’s title victory, he became the first American to win at least three ATP Tour titles since Jack Sock won his third (of four) at the Delray Beach Open in 2017.

“Quotable …”

“The crowd was definitely behind me. It’s kind of extra disappointing to not be able to get over the line in my backyard. That match was two guys serving big. [Opelka] is serving just massive. I don’t think anyone can break him out there.

“If I win that match, there’s a good chance I win this tournament.”

– No. 3 seed John Isner of the United States, following his 7-6 (7), 7-6 (22) loss to Reilly Opelka Saturday.