DELRAY BEACH, FLA./WASHINGTON, February 18, 2022 (by Michael Dickens)
Through the first three days of main draw play of the Delray Beach Open by VITACOST.com in South Florida, the players who have been able to tame the sometimes messy, windy conditions best are the ones who have advanced to Friday’s quarterfinals. Thus far, from the top half of the draw are: top seed Cameron Norrie, fourth seed Tommy Paul, fifth seed Sebastian Korda and local qualifier Stefan Kozlov.
On Thursday, the last four second-round matches – all of them featuring an American presence – took place under sunny and warm (79 degrees Fahrenheit) but humid (76% relative humidity) conditions to round out the quarterfinal field of the 30th edition of this ATP 250 outdoor hard-court tournament at the Delray Beach Tennis Club on the Florida Atlantic coast.
Opelka rides unbeatable first serve to victory
When second seed Reilly Opelka and 141st-ranked wild card Jack Sock met in Thursday afternoon’s featured match in an all-American battle of big servers and former Delray Beach Open champions, there was little room for error. Both were outstandingly solid during their service games throughout the two-hour and 15-minute second-round match.
By the time the last serve was played, with Opelka racking up his 21st ace, it was the American No. 2, ranked 20th in the world, who won 6-7 (6), 7-6 (4), 6-1 to move into Friday’s quarterfinal round. It was the 2020 Delray Beach Open champion’s sixth straight win in his hometown tournament.
Riding a wave of confidence
— Tennis TV (@TennisTV) February 17, 2022
In the opening set, Opelka got himself out of a couple of service jams with his powerful first serve. He struck an ace to save a break point in the seventh game, then hit his 10th ace to hold for 6-5, winning 18 of 21 first-serve points. Sock was just as effective. He won 100 percent of his first-serve points – 23 of 23 – during his first three service games, which set up a first-set tie-break.
After an exchange of mini-breaks, Sock gained a set point at 7-6 after Opelka hit a forehand return wide. Then, he put away the 50-minute first set when Opelka netted a doable backhand return that ended a four-shot rally. It was Opelka’s first tie-break loss in his last seven tie-breaks going back to his title run at the Dallas Open last week.
Then, Sock saved four break points during a 14-point game to hold serve at the start of the second set and served an underarm ace for a 2-1 lead. It was meant to counter Opelka standing so far back behind the baseline – and it worked. But it also woke up Opelka, too. He continued his blistering efficiency in winning points on his first serve, but also found himself two points from losing in straight sets at 4-5 deuce. He held serve for 5-all but also Sock continued to build confidence – and certainly played better than someone ranked 141st in the world.
— Tennis Channel (@TennisChannel) February 17, 2022
Sock held steady for a 6-5 lead, which meant he could do no worse than another tiebreaker to decide the second set. Serving to stay in the match for the second time, Opelka held at love, which meant a second tie-break. After exchanging mini-breaks, Opelka broke again for a 5-3 advantage with a ripped forehand winner down-the-line. Soon, he gained a set point at 6-4 with a cross-court forehand winner and put it away 7-4 with a backhand volley winner coming into the net to force a deciding third set.
Opelka broke Sock at love in the fourth game and consolidated the break with a love hold and it gave him some breathing room at 4-1. From there, Opelka broke Sock’s serve once again, on his second try, after winning nine straight points to push ahead 5-1 with the match on his racquet. Finally, Opelka reached the finish line and it was a clean and precise finish. He closed out the victory with a service ace straight up the middle.
* , *
Reilly Opelka def. Jack Sock 6-7(6), 7-6(4), 6-1
— Delray Beach Open (@DelrayBeachOpen) February 18, 2022
“Thanks everyone for coming out to watch us play,” Opelka said during his on-court interview. “I live just down the road. I saw some familiar faces and heard some familiar voices. It’s nice of them to come out. I’m really happy with how I competed. It was tough conditions coming from an indoor court [in Dallas] to outdoors with the wind. I managed it very well. … I try to do my best each week.”
Opelka finished with 21 aces against just one double fault and won a remarkable 95 percent (53 of 56) of his first-serve points. He saved the only break point he faced while converting two of seven break points against Sock. Meanwhile, Sock put up four aces but committed seven double faults. He won 76 percent (53 of 70) of his first-serve points. Opelka outpointed Sock 111-87 and moves on.
Opelka’s win advanced him to face seventh-seeded Adrian Mannarino of France in Friday’s evening session opener. The 53rd-ranked Frenchman was extended to three hours and three minutes before he beat No. 81 Brandon Nakashima of the United States, 6-4, 2-6, 7-5, Thursday night.
Everything seemed to go in Millman’s favor
Everything seemed to go Australian John Millman’s way from the outset of his second-round match against No. 64 Marcos Giron of the United States. The 91st-ranked Millman sprinted to a double-break 5-0 lead barely 18 minutes into the first contest of the afternoon. It was a portends of good things to come for the likable Aussie from Brisbane.
Millman began by going 10-for-10 in winning first serve points and by the end of the of 89-minute match, he had won 75 percent of his serves overall. Thanks to his solid service game, it was Millman who prevailed with a 6-3, 7-6 (6) victory over Giron to reach his first quarterfinal of the season after reaching four ATP 250 quarterfinals last season.
View this post on Instagram
After Millman won the first set, neither he nor Giron budged in the second and it forced a tie-break. Soon, Giron broke out quickly and took a 6-3 lead. However, Millman promptly saved three set points – while saving his nerve, too – and won on his first match-point opportunity when Giron stroked a 10th-shot forehand well beyond its intended target. Millman outpointed his opponent 65-55.
After starting the season 1-4, Millman has now strung together a pair of quality victories this week. He admitted during his on-court interview that battling the weather was just as challenging as facing Giron.
“It’s not just your opponent you’re playing out here. These conditions are really challenging. They were really tough today,” Millman said. “To be honest, I’m glad I won that second set. I was starting to get really tight. … It could have gone to three and it would have been anyone’s game.
“I’m here and in the quarters. There’s no reason I can’t keep going,” said Millman, who will take on third seed Grigor Dimitrov of Bulgaria Friday evening. In the final match Thursday evening, No. 26 Dimitrov defeated 164th-ranked American qualifier Mitchell Krueger, 7-6 (4), 6-3, in one hour and 46 minutes.
— Tennis Channel (@TennisChannel) February 18, 2022
Doubles No. 2 seeds Krajicek and Nys eliminated
Two of the four doubles quarterfinal matches took place on Thursday and the first one produced the first upset among the four seeded teams. Unseeded Americans Robert Galloway and Alex Lawson, ranked 118th, received a wild card into the draw and have made the most of their opportunity. On Thursday, Galloway and Lawson defeated No. 2 seeds Austin Krajicek of the United States and Hugo Nys of Monaco, 6-3, 3-6, 11-9.
Playing together for the first time this season, Galloway and Lawson are off to a 2-0 start after going 44-28 last season, playing mostly on the ATP Challenger Tour circuit.
Then, the second upset of the day in the doubles draw occurred when American Marcos Giron and Hans Hach Verdugo of Mexico knocked off No. 4 seeds Luke Seville and John-Patrick Smith, 3-6, 6-3, 10-8.
Opelka enjoying his favorite stretch of the ATP Tour season
After winning the Dallas Open last Sunday for his third career ATP Tour singles title, Reilly Opelka returned to his hometown of Delray Beach, Fla., where he is the No. 2 seed in this week’s Delray Beach Open. During an on-court interview with Blair Henley after defeating Jenson Brooksby to win the Dallas Open title, the 20th-ranked Opelka said this stretch of ATP tournaments – Dallas, Delray Beach, Indian Wells, Miami, Houston – is his favorite time of the season.
“Just like John [Isner] had a tournament in his backyard [Dallas], I’m fortunate enough to have one in mine. I’m excited by the [upcoming] U.S. Swing – Indian Wells, Miami, Houston,” he said.
Opelka, of course, was referring to the back-to-back Masters 1000 events, the BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells and the Miami Open.
“This is the few weeks of the year we get to really feel at home,” Opelka said. “I’m going to make the most of it.
“I like to play all of them in the States, in front of American fans. It’s always so special.”
Venus Williams: Local supporting local
Future Hall of Famer Venus Williams, a South Florida resident, was seen in the crowd during the Reilly Opelka-Jack Sock second round match Thursday afternoon. Williams is friends with Opelka – the two share a common interest in art – and lives in nearby Jupiter, Fla.
— Delray Beach Open (@DelrayBeachOpen) February 17, 2022
Later on, Williams and her sister, Serena Williams, were spotted by TV cameras watching the Grigor Dimitrov-Mitchell Krueger match.
— Tennis TV (@TennisTV) February 18, 2022
By the numbers
Reilly Opelka is now 5-1 against fellow Americans this year. After losing to Maxime Cressy in his first match of the season, Opelka has won five consecutive matches against his compatriots. After making just three quarterfinals all last season, he’s already advanced to his third quarterfinal of 2022.
“The season is just starting. I’m happy to be in a few quarterfinals already. Obviously, I want to do better. I’m pushing for deeper results than that.”
– No. 4 seed Tommy Paul on his early-season results, in which he’s reached three quarterfinals in four 2022 tournaments.