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Tennis Channel Inside-In Featuring Reilly Opelka: The Big Man with a Bigger Voice
His serve and size took the game by storm. Now the former world No. 17 remains unafraid to live life on his terms, whether you like it or not.
Published May 10, 2023
TENNIS CHANNEL LIVE: Opelka discusses countryman Taylor Fritz.
Reilly Opelka is known in the tennis world for many things. Being afraid is not one of them. The big-serving American has kept opponents on their heels for years, and that continues in 2023. An injury has sidelined Opelka for an extended period, but in that time, he’s re-prioritized his life.
Opelka remains locked into tennis via commentary, and his love affair with both the fashion and art worlds continues to prosper. And above all else, he shares his opinions on the game he’s given his all to. Opelka joined the Tennis-Channel Inside-In Podcast to do what he does best: speak from the heart.
Opelka was a product of the USTA, during an era when the leaders of tennis in America took a select few of the best prospects of each birth year and developed them for a pro career. There were a lot of groupings where the potential wasn't realized, but not for Opelka's class. Taylor Fritz, Tommy Paul and Frances Tiafoe joined Opelka in an era that produced some of the best home-grown talent the country has seen in a long time.
"There's a reason why I think our group did better than the rest. And we definitely broke the most rules," Opelka said in reference to the fun he had growing up with countrymates. "I credit Tommy for a lot of that, he was Ferris Bueller."
The quartet have ushered in success that was sorely lacking among the US men, and a group of even younger players have followed their path. "The thing that I love about this generation of American tennis, is how you have so many great players in the Top 100, and all of them play different styles."
The conversation inevitably covers Opelka's gripes with what he considers biased members of the media. At the heart of the issue is what the American considers is certain biases that cloud how journalists cover the sport.
"Nowadays in the tennis media, if you aren't on the same agendas, what it really is is that they don't accept you. It's a very old school mentality. They've tried to evolve and become more modern. But I think it's actually been the opposite," Opelka explained.
He used one player as a prime example of a disconnect that he emphatically believes exists.
"Holger (Rune) is a very nice guy off the court. Most players would agree with that, he's super nice in the locker room, very friendly. On court, you gotta do what you gotta do. If I were Holger, I wouldn't listen to a single thing the media says."
In a world where the status quo is safely guarded, it is refreshing to hear the honesty that Opelka oozes. He states his case on a lot of issues that many won't touch and certain people might take exception with. But he backs up his claims, puts them into proper context, and doesn't shy away from pushback. We shouldn't force people to be what they are not, especially especially if it's a perspective that's sorely lacking in tennis landscape.
Life off the court for Opelka is different than virtually all of his peers, with art and fashion being true passions for the the product of St. Joseph, Michigan. He boasts one of the largest collections of art you will find, and has established friendships with some of the heavy hitters in both fields. Kris Van Assche is one such friends, having been at the artistic helm at Dior and the creative director for Berluti. Opelka followed his shows religiously, and understood the significance of a person with his roots doing so.
"It must take a really good artist, a special person, to get a middle America kid, on his phone, making an effort, setting an alarm in a different time to go stream his runway show," he reasoned.
And the tennis world got a firsthand experience of Opelka's love of fashion when he brought his now notorious pink tote bag onto to the court. The bag was sponsored by Belgian artist Tim Van Laere's gallery, and the result ended up being positive for the player.
"He did a color pencil drawing of a tennis court that I loved. He responded to me saying it was sold," Opelka recalled, not knowing at the time that the artist bought his own work. "Fast forward we had our partnership our deal, I carried the pink bag on court, I got fined for it. And he reimbursed me in the fine, and he gave me that drawing."
Opelka's mind is a fascinating one, and his views are clearly his own. But there's no trepidation in his beliefs, and no second thoughts in his revelations. He showcased an analytical mind in breaking down his peers' games on the men's side, sharing insight as to why Alcaraz, Medvedev and Nadal are elite.
And there is even an updated ServeBot roster, with new faces emerging after the departure of some of the greatest "Bots" in tennis lore. When Reilly Opelka returns to the court, the rest of the tour will be forced to back up it's return position and heighten their alertness. the big man brings the power, and he brings the realness every single time. This podcast goes to show you that his realness knows no bounds.