The USTA participant growth officers held one other press convention Friday telling us to belief the method, child steps are being made, and American males’s tennis is heading in the right direction.
There are 14 American males within the high 100 — a rise of 120 % from 2008. However to ensure that tennis to achieve a brand new stage of curiosity in the US, an American male must trek to the second week of the U.S. Open, which begins Monday.
The most recent massive hope is a giant man with a giant Paul Bunyan beard — Reilly Opelka, the 6-foot-11 supersonic server who turned 24 on Saturday. The progress he has made in a single 12 months’s time has the USTA excited.
The bearded marvel’s spotlight got here when he superior to the finals in the important thing Open tuneup in Toronto earlier this month. He’s acquired a seed right here — twenty second — and a house crowd dying for an American man to mild up Flushing Meadows.
Opelka tries to not put an excessive amount of strain on himself. In truth, he comes off as cautious, feeling he nonetheless might be a 12 months away from a second-week run in a Grand Slam occasion.
“I’ve undoubtedly grown quite a bit within the final 12 months,’’ mentioned Opelka, born in Michigan earlier than transferring to Florida. “It doesn’t imply I’m not anticipating to showcase it multi function week. Nevertheless it’s extra than simply 4 Grand Slams. I might love to hold my momentum by way of this week. However everybody’s robust right here.’’
USTA coaches really feel the one factor standing in the way in which of Opelka changing into a top-10 participant is well being. At his dimension, he’s extra vulnerable to leg accidents and was bothered by knee hassle ultimately 12 months’s Open when he had a tough 1-2 punch of a attract Fabio Fognini and David Goffin.
“One factor that’s good is that I’m seeded this 12 months,’’ Opelka mentioned. “That makes a world of a distinction. I’m undoubtedly a lot additional alongside from that, however I haven’t made a second week of a Slam. I’ve acquired to check my physique to see what occurs with 4 3-out-of-5-set matches. That’s the one purpose why I say I don’t know if I’m prepared. I’m not being destructive. I’m simply being real looking.’’
The journey to Toronto’s finals was a sign he’s the actual deal.
“It’s been nice to see Reilly proceed to progress,’’ USTA participant growth chief Martin Blackman mentioned. “The finals in Canada was an enormous breakthrough for him. He performed a strong match in opposition to [Daniil] Medvedev [in the Finals]. He actually made Medvedev work for it. We’re actually optimistic about his growth.’’
Blackman mentioned he’s inspired that Opelka continues to be climbing as he’s coached by Jay Berger, an ex-USTA teaching director and former top-10 participant.
“In a 12 months’s time, I’ve improved my serve, my forehand,’’ Opelka mentioned. “Bodily, I’m a lot stronger. Mentally, I believe I’m quite a bit harder. I might say it’s a night-and-day distinction.’’
The boys don’t have a participant within the high 20, however there’s nonetheless imminent hope for Frances Tiafoe, Taylor Fritz and Sebastian Korda, too. John Isner is the highest-ranked male at 21, however he’s winding down his profession.
“I don’t ever need to type of ship a message we’re pleased with the progress and we’re glad,’’ Blackman mentioned. “However I believe a part of the message is that we’ve been centered on the method for the final 13 years. The traits that we’re seeing immediately are very optimistic — [but we’re] not taking any victory laps in any respect as a result of now we have an extended approach to go, particularly on the lads’s aspect.’’
Opelka gained’t be laborious to search out on the grounds — along with his peak and mop of hair that he comprises below his white hat. He faces Soonwoo Kwon of South Korea on Tuesday.
“Having followers again is a complete delight, particularly New Yorkers,’’ Opelka mentioned. “What higher followers to have for our first 100% go than the native New York crowd? That’s what makes the U.S. Open the U.S. Open. That’s why the Yankees are a legendary crew, the Knicks as properly. It’s the fan base, the tradition of New York.’’