For Reilly Opelka, traveling to Indian Wells often feels more like a work trip than a visit to Tennis Paradise.

And the 6’11” self-proclaimed serve-bot has business on his mind, as he arrives in the California desert as the top-ranked American man sitting at world No. 17. While the BNP Paribas Open has never been Opelka’s most successful hard-court Masters 1000 event—he’s looking to turn around a 1-4 record here—he will be eager to build on the momentum that took him to back-to-back finals in Delray Beach and an ATP 250 trophy in Dallas.

“I think we made a lot of adjustments in mid-last year, like summer of 2021, and it took a while to kind of kick in,” Opelka told in a phone interview. “I think I'm finally starting to get some of those rewards, especially for all the time I've put in the gym.”

But in Indian Wells, the behind-the-scenes action can be just as intense as the forehands and backhands on court. As one of the most picturesque spots on tour—and one of the handful of times a year where all the men’s and women’s Top 100 are gathered in the same spot—the tournament quickly becomes a backdrop to the countless photoshoots, social media posts, sponsor obligations, star-studded events and more.

“It’s a beautiful place, but it is hectic,” Opelka explained. “It's such a dry, brutal heat, and because the scenery is so beautiful there’s a lot of requirements and a lot of photoshoots. You don't get much practice time in at all, actually. You’re more busy doing all your photoshoots for the year.”


Opelka arrives in the California desert as the top-ranked American man, sitting at world No. 17.

Opelka arrives in the California desert as the top-ranked American man, sitting at world No. 17.

And that’s not to mention the dramatic matches that often play out in the boardrooms of Indian Wells. Both the ATP and WTA tours hold board meetings and Player Council meetings there, and in the past, these have turned out to be just as weighty as the tournament’s trophy: in 2019, the ATP Player Council in Indian Wells voted to oust chairman Chris Kermode. It was a move that preceded the creation of the PTPA, a breakaway players' association that seeks to address a growing dissatisfaction with the tour's current governance and revenue distribution.

From highlighting the code violation he received for wearing a hat during a trophy ceremony in Dallas, to calling for ATP boss Andrea Gaudenzi’s salary reduction a week later in Delray Beach, to calling out the tour’s “conflicts of interest” on social media, Opelka has been following—and posting about—those issues on a regular basis.

Ahead of the start of Indian Wells, spoke to Opelka about his vision for the ATP’s future, and why he feels compelled to speak up on behalf of his fellow players—and shine a light on tennis’ inner workings in the process.

Q: You’ve been one of the most outspoken pros in terms of calling out the double standards and conflicts of interest in tennis. What sparked this activist-slash-player-advocate side of you into action?
Opelka: Well, you can't monetize talent, and there's limited time. I mean, look at Andrey Rublev, for an example. Rublev is only 24, 25, 26 years old once, you know? And I feel bad for the guy. What he did last year was impressive and it's easy for people to say, 'Oh, he's fortunate, he's making a lot of money.'

What Rublev does is far from normal. He's working to a degree I haven't really seen before and I respect that more than anything. I know he's been in some dark places in training. I see what he does, it's six, seven hours, he's in the gym, he's hitting all day. He's not just showing up, and I really respect that about him.

I feel terrible that he's not rewarded the way he should be. He should be making millions and millions. He should be making more than what he's got, he worked his ass off for it.

I really think it's a shame. I mean, MLB has been on the lockout for much smaller percentages than we have. But I'm not into politics at all, I like playing tennis. I don't want to have to complain about it.


I feel terrible that Rublev is not rewarded the way he should be. He should be making millions and millions. He should be making more than what he's got, he worked his ass off for it. Reilly Opelka

Q: What are some of those double standards or conflicts of interest in tennis?
Opelka: It's funny, Danny Vallverdu tweeted me and I don't know if he had his facts straight. It was an interesting engagement, obviously, he's very pro ATP, right? He made a comment that the Conflicts of Interest policy was approved last week. But if you read the email we got, it says that it's above a certain threshold. That description is very squirrely, is what I said.

What exactly is the threshold? Does it still allow guys like Gavin Forbes, Charles Smith, Herwig Straka, agents, coaches—such as Danny Vallverdu—to even be a board member? Danny ran for a board seat very recently, while being a member of the Player Council. You know how the voting process works. The Player Council actually votes the board members in, so it's comical.

It's human nature to do what's best for yourself and take as much for yourself as possible, but when the system enables that? I'm not faulting Danny for voting himself in as a board member or whatever, but you shouldn't be in that position in the first place.



Q: You mentioned human nature, and we’re talking about tennis as an individual sport. If we take 10 players from all different rankings and backgrounds and ask them what the biggest issue in tennis is right now, you’d probably get 10 different answers. What would you say is the biggest change that needs to happen in tennis right now?
Opelka: I think Andrea Gaudenzi needs to step down from his position. I think we need new leadership. I mean, I don't mean it in a bad way. It's not a personal dig at them. I think they're nice guys. Massimo [Calvelli] is a nice guy. But I don't quite get it. Why are we going for guys that were in tennis? No offense to Massimo but you don't go from being a Nike rep and being in charge of sending packages or getting the right clay court shoes to Rublev, to being a CEO of one of the biggest global sports. This just doesn't happen in any other sport.

And I'm not just ripping Massimo, I said the same about Chris Kermode—he was a teaching pro. The guy was a teaching pro at the Queen's Club in England. How do you go from being a teaching pro to being a CEO of one of the biggest global sports in the world, at a time where you have the three greatest players of all time playing?

[Note: The ATP Tour’s global headquarters in London is located next door to the Queen’s Club, about a minute’s walk on foot.]

Every major global sport is doing great besides tennis, and I think it's just the leadership.


Q: So what would an ideal ATP leader look like for you? Is it more important to have someone with a tennis background or with business experience steering the ship?
Opelka: I mean, you get what you pay for, right? I think you need to break the bank on a visionary. You take Adam Silver's right hand man, or you take a guy that's worked under an Adam Silver or another CEO that's had a lot of success, and you break the bank on him because our sport's broken.

I mean, if there's so much transparency and everything's fine, then why were five of the six best players in the world playing in Acapulco, Mexico in a brand new stadium, with no limitations on ticket sales? It's a full house every single night and the sponsors are the same. You have Rafael Nadal's name, you have Stefanos Tsitsipas, you have [Alexander] Zverev—you have as elite of a field as you can possibly find, and the prize money is still less than it was in 2019?

It just doesn't make sense. Why are we going backwards? We have the greatest player of all time playing in Acapulco, along with five of the other best players in the world, and it's still less prize money than in 2019.

Opelka is 11-4 on the season, and lifted his first trophy of the year in Dallas.

Opelka is 11-4 on the season, and lifted his first trophy of the year in Dallas.


Q: But why would someone from outside the ATP-sphere or the tennis world be the best person suited to make these changes?
Opelka: I would explain that the ATP is a boys' club. Just look at the board members. It's a total boys club. What is Danny Valverdu's experience in terms of being a tournament director? None, zero. And when a new week pops up on the calendar at an ATP sanctioned event, a Player Council member, Danny Valverdu, gets to be the tournament director [at the 2021 San Diego Open].

He has no experience being a tournament director, none. Why does he get it? It's because it's a boys club. And I think that needs to change, the culture of that needs to change.

I would get someone less involved in tennis, you know? Because when you get someone that's close to tennis, then he's used to this, to the ATP being a mess. It's been a circus for as long as it's been around. Every major global sport is doing great besides tennis, and I think it's just the leadership.

Q: You’ve been tweeting quite a bit about this and other topics on social media. Do you actively seek out comments to reply to as you’re scrolling Twitter?
Opelka: I'm actually not on Twitter that much at all. That's just like the most toxic place, it's just shocking. So the commentary is hilarious. I actually don't really read at all there. I just respond to a few, maybe one will pop up and I'll respond to a few things. But I'm not on Twitter much. I'd say max, a ‘busy’ day on Twitter means five minutes a day.

But on Instagram I spend more of my time, because I really like fashion, I like art and interior design and furniture, and there's no better place for me to see that stuff than on Instagram. Also a few accounts I like to follow they're really funny. I get some good humor out of them.

Q: You’ve spoken in the past about how social media can be a lot, especially when you’re getting death threats in the comments. How do you balance the mental health impact of seeing those types of comments all the time?
Opelka: It’s crazy. I couldn't imagine ever sending a note like that to anyone. But at the same time, I was also never able to relate to the players that let it even consume a second of their time. It's the same thing on Twitter, half the people are just angry and bitter about life. I more so feel bad for them and it actually makes me feel even better about myself. So it’s just really good for my mental health in that aspect.

I mean, I couldn't imagine what would have to go wrong in my life to be sending a death threat to Jenny Brady after she loses a second-set tiebreaker.

After receiving a bye, No. 17 seed Opelka awaits the winner of Marcos Giron and Lorenzo Musetti in the second round of Indian Wells.