UNIONDALE, N.Y.—When Reilly Opelka hits a serve, the result feels less like a tennis player executing a stroke, and more like a grown adult standing at a ping-pong table and smacking a full-power overhead for the fun of it.
Leveraging his 6'11" of height and 225 pounds of weight, he's able to lean way over the baseline and into the court, placing the ball virtually anywhere in the box with nearly unmatched velocity.
Because of this, Opelka, 21, made it through his first career ATP final without facing a single break point, crushing a near-record 43 aces along the way. In the championship match of the New York Open on Sunday, he defeated Canadian qualifier Brayden Schnur, 6-1, 6-7 (7), 7-6 (7), to win his first—of many, surely—ATP titles.
The American cruised through the first set, winning it in just 18 minutes, but after that the margins were razor thin. In the second-set tiebreak, Opelka double-faulted away a match point—his second to that point—before allowing Schnur to even the match.
The deciding set needed a tiebreak as well, and after some twists and turns—including three more Opelka match points—Schnur found himself serving at 7-all. The Canadian hit what he was sure was a perfect ace up the T, but an Opelka challenge found the ball to be just the slightest bit out.
Opelka would later say "that challenge was probably the difference" between winning and losing the match.
Schnur's second serve then hit the tape and dribbled back onto his own side of the net, putting the match on Opelka's racquet. He promptly popped an ace out wide to win the tiebreak and capture the ATP 250 crown.
While Opelka capitalized on this week more than anyone, Schnur arrived in New York with a career tour-level record of 0-5. He then won both of his qualifying matches and, in the main draw, ousted Jack Lin, Steve Johnson, Paolo Lorezni and Sam Querrey before almost winning the final. He'll rise in the rankings on Monday from No. 154 to a projected No. 107.
"It's a dream come true. It's an amazing week for me," Schnur said. "It just sucks to go down the way it happened, to have a challenge at 7-all that close, and then a 30-second break, almost, and then hit a second serve into the net to double-fault. Super tough."
Opelka, meanwhile, credited his first serve for the win. Of course he did.
ATP Rio De Janeiro
• Starting Monday 2/18, at 2:30 pm ET, catch live coverage of the Rio Open featuring Dominic Thiem, Fabio Fognini, and Diego Schwartzman.
• Watch Naomi Osaka, Petra Kvitova, Simona Halep and Karolina Pliskova live from the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships starting Saturday, 2/16 at 3:00 am ET
• Tennis Channel Plus features live coverage of the Hungarian Ladies Open beginning Monday, 2/18 8:00 am ET
ATP Delray Beach
• Watch Juan Martin del Potro, John Isner and Frances Tiafoe live on Tennis Channel Plus beginning Tuesday, 2/19 at 12:30 am ET.
• See Karen Khachanov, Borna Coric and Stefanos Tsitsipas live on Tennis Channel Plus beginning Monday 2/18, 8:30 am ET