‘Servebot’ Opelka Serves Notice In Toronto, Looks Forward To Tsitsipas

Reilly Opelka

TORONTO/WASHINGTON, August 14, 2021 (by Michael Dickens)

Reilly Opelka may be a self-proclaimed “servebot” – he hit 18 aces during his quarterfinal win over Roberto Bautista Agut Friday – but the big-serving American gentle giant had the right tools to beat the tenth-seeded Spaniard and move into the semifinal round at the National Bank Open at Aviva Centre in Toronto.

After saving a match point the day before in his third-round win over Lloyd Harris, the 23-year-old Opelka hit 30 winners, won 85 percent (35 of 41) of his first-serve points and outpointed his opponent 57-53 to win 6-3, 7- 6 (1) in 83 minutes against Bautista Agut.

“To beat Robbie [Roberto Baustisa Agut], it shows you are at a high level,” the No. 32 Opelka said during an on-court interview following his quarterfinal victory. The win leveled his career head-to-head against the World No. 17 Bautista Agut at 2-all. “He is always pretty consistent, so if you aren’t at a high level, you don’t have a shot against him. I came into the match with confidence, which was nice. … I played flawlessly today.”

Opelka’s victory advanced him to his second ATP Masters 1000 semifinal, where he will face No. 3 seed Stefanos Tsitsipas of Greece, who ended Casper Ruud‘s winning streak at 13 during his 6-1, 6-4 victory. While he looks forward to Saturday’s final four match against against the World No. 3 Tsitsipas, Opelka knows he’ll have to be at his best to win.

“[Tsitsipas] has got a great serve,” Opelka said. “He has the best forehand in the world right now and he moves very well. It is very hard to find his backhand; watch how quickly he moves to the left to cover it. He hits forehands from every part of the court, is aggressive and competes well. There’s not many flaws. That’s why he’s the best player in the world right now.”

Later, during an interview with Tennis Channel, Opelka said he thought he played really smart against Bautista Agut. “I think I won today with a lot of the shot selections that I played instead of highlight-reel shots. I thought I served smart, executed well and played well outside of the pocket, I hit more forehand well and was disciplined. I went in with a really clear mindset of what I needed to do to win.”

Meanwhile, the World No. 12 Ruud from Norway, who sought his 100th career win – and 14th consecutive victory – met his match against Tsitsipas in the first quarterfinal Friday. The newly-turned 23-year-old Greek needed just 74 minutes to dispose of the sixth-seeded Ruud, who came to Toronto having won three straight European clay-court titles. Instead, it will be Tsitsipas moving into Saturday’s semifinals against Opelka, in search of his third ATP Tour title this season. He hit eight aces and 20 winners against just 11 unforced errors. Tsitsipas outpointed Ruud 56-37 to collect his ATP Tour-leading 45th victory of the season.

“It is very nice to see myself perform at this level,” Tsitsipas said in a philosophical tone of voice during his on-court, post-match interview. “I was sticking close to the baseline and coming in, taking the ball early. It was my intention from the very beginning, and it worked perfectly.”

Tsitipas needed just 23 minutes to put away the opening set after racing to a 5-0 lead. He didn’t let up the rest of the match.

“Playing against a guy like him, who gets every single ball back, is always very challenging,” Tsitsipas said of Ruud. “There is some sort of concentration levels you have to reach to perform to your best These kinds of matches always teach me things that I can expose for next time.”

• In Friday’s other quarterfinal matches, World No. 2 and top seed Daniil Medvedev of Russia, who was a 2019 finalist in Canada, rallied from a set down, then held off No. 7 seed Hubert Hurkacz of Poland, 2-6, 7-6 (6), 7-6 (5), in two hours and 17 minutes. He served 23 aces and hit 38 winners.

“He had his chances and he was probably the better player for at least two sets for sure, but that’s tennis,” Medvedev said during his on-court interview after the win. “We both have great serves and I managed to hit some aces when I needed to. 

“It was definitely not easy. He was on top of me. But to win matches like this gives you a huge boost of confidence. It’s a pleasure to be standing here and giving interviews.”

Meanwhile, No. 30 John Isner of the United States advanced to play Medvedev after defeating No. 11 seed Gaël Monfils of France, 7-6 (5), 6-4, in an hour and 33 minutes for his ninth straight victory and 11th in his last 12 in the last quarterfinal of the day. It was the 13th head-to-head meeting between Isner and Monfils in their career and sixth time the American has won. Isner fired 13 aces and hit 29 winners to reach his first Canadian semifinal in nine years.

“Against [Gaël], we do bring out a lot of good in each other,” Isner said during his on-court interview after the match. “We’ve always had tight matches. He leads 7 -6 right now, but he’s always been a very good rival of mine – not in a nasty way. We’re very good friends. To play someone 13 times like him I think is very cool.”

Jabeur, master of the comeback rally, runs out of luck

Until she ran out of luck in her quarterfinal match against Jessica Pegula Friday night, Tunisia’s Ons Jabeur had become the master of the comeback rally. For two straight nights at the Omnium Banque Nationale in Montreal, first against Daria Kasatkina on Wednesday and, again, Thursday against defending champion and No. 2 seed Bianca Andreescu, the No. 13 seed had come from a set down to win in three sets. It’s what landed her against No. 30 Pegula, who early Friday morning (at 1:32 a.m.) ended the 12-match winning streak of fellow American Danielle Collins, 6-4, 3-6, 7-5.

Twice, Jabeur was a break up against Andreescu before losing the opening set in a tie break. Then, from 4-all in the second set, she won eight of the final nine games of two hour and 39-minute match to win 6-7 (5), 6-4, 6-1, losing just three points in her final four service games.

“[It was a] great match. It was a tough one,” Jabeur said in press. “I know coming to play Bianca here in Montreal, in Canada, was going to be difficult.”

Indeed, Jabeur endured a lengthy rain delay and a medical time out taken by Andreescu to address a foot injury.

“But I think I played good tennis. I had my opportunities in the first set,” Jabeur continued in press. “But I’m glad that I did good in the second and third set and I didn’t let the rain, the injuries, stopping all the time, make me lose my focus. I’m pretty happy with the way I stayed mentally and physically very ready.”

Jabeur played off the energy of many flag-waving Tunisian fans at IGA Stadium that helped her secure her 36th WTA victory of the season and reach her fifth quarterfinal of the year.

Andreescu expressed disappointment during her press conference but also gave props to Jabeur. “I’m super disappointed in how I played, but at the same time Ons played super well,” she said. “I tried to play my best with what I had today. She was kind of disrupting my rhythm a little bit. The whole toe situation didn’t help at all. I wish my serve was a little better today. She definitely took advantage of that.

“I’m sick and tired of retiring. For sure, I could have, but I did not want to tonight. It’s super bruised. It hurt on a lot of shots. I try not to show it. She also took advantage of that. She was just playing lights out in the third set. Didn’t give me anything to really feed off of.

“She’s been having an incredible season and I think she can win the tournament for sure if she plays like she did today and even yesterday. I think she can win the tournament.”

For a set against Pegula, it looked like Jabeur was going to make Andreescu look like a genius and back up the Canadian’s prediction. Jabeur easily won the first set 6-1 in 19 minutes, breaking Pegula twice and keeping her opponent off guard with her variety of slice and drop shots. Then, the American from Buffalo, N.Y. started to chip away at Jabeur, eventually winning the second set in a tie-break. Finally, she shut out the World No. 22 in the final set, who by then had run out of luck. Final result: Pegula defeated Jabeur, 1-6, 7-6 (4), 6-0, in one hour and 28 minutes. Pegula fought through 30 unforced errors to hit 13 winners and she converted four of five break points. While Jabeur hit six aces and 20 winners, she was ultimately undone by 33 unforced errors.

“I want to shout out all the Tunisian fans, it’s really amazing you guys coming out,” Pegula said during her on-court interview following the match. “I know you weren’t rooting for me but what Ons has brought has been incredible. So, it’s amazing to see her reaching people around the world and it’s amazing.”

Sabalenka sets up showdown with Pliskova

In Friday’s other quarterfinal matches: World No. 3 Aryna Sabalenka set up a semifinal showdown with No. 4 seed Karolina Pliskova following her 6-2, 6-4 victory over fellow Belarusian Victoria Azarenka in an hour and 19 minutes that started play Friday on Centre Court at IGA Stadium. It was Sabalenka’s WTA-leading 38th victory of the season. The top seed hit seven aces and 33 winners and outpointed former World No. 1 Azarenka 62-52.

Also, Pliskova ended the run of No. 48 Sara Sorribes Tormo of Spain, 6-4, 6-0, in an hour and 20 minutes, in back of 23 winners, winning 85 percent of her returns on her opponent’s second serve and by converting six of seven break points. Pliskova won the final 10 games of the match. She beat Sabalenka last month in the semifinals at Wimbledon.

Finally, in the other quarterfinal, No. 15 seed Coco Gauff of the United States was upset by No. 71 Camila Giorgi of Italy, who reached her first WTA 1000 semifinal of her career with a 6-4, 7-6 (2) win. She’s not lost a set all week while racking up three Top 25 victories, over No. 9 seed Elise Mertens, Nadia Podoroska, No. 7 seed Petra Kvitova and Gauff. Giorgi hit 10 winners and made 25 unforced errors while Gauff countered with 12 winners but committed 26 unforced errors. Giorgi outscored Gauff 80-67.

“I think it was a great match,” Giorgi said, quoted by the WTA website after her victory. “I think I was very consistent. It was a great level, I think.”

Friday’s National Bank Open – Toronto men’s results

Friday’s National Bank Open – Montreal women’s results

Saturday’s National Bank Open – Toronto order of play

Saturday’s National Bank Open – Montreal order of play

Roger Federer: ‘Everything is still a little uncertain’

The biggest takeaway from a widely-circulated Thursday interview that 20-time Grand Slam champion Roger Federer gave to the Swiss publication Blick is there is uncertainty as to whether he’ll play in this year’s US Open.

“I was on vacation. I haven’t done anything for a while because of the knee,” Federer told Blick. … “This week, I’ll meet with doctors and my team and decide what to do going forward. At the moment, everything is still a little bit uncertain.”

Federer, who turned 40 on August 8, last played at Wimbledon, losing in the quarterfinal round to Hubert Hurkacz. Afterward, the Swiss superstar revealed he had a setback with his right knee, which he underwent two surgeries in 2020.

Last week, Federer pulled out of both this week’s National Bank Open in Toronto and next week’s Western & Southern Open in Mason, Ohio near Cincinnati, both ATP Masters 1000 events. Federer has twice won Canada and is a seven-time Cincinnati Masters champion. In limited action this season, Federer has played just 14 matches spread over five tournaments – Doha, Geneva, Roland Garros, Halle and Wimbledon.

“You need more time for everything,” Federer explained to Blick. “Before, if you had a blocked back, it took two days and everything was fine again. .Now, it could require two weeks. You have to have more patience with the pain, with yourself, with returning to court again.”

While Federer has been missed on the tennis court, to hear him say it, he’s also enjoyed his time off the ATP Tour.

“It was great to be with my family, with the kids, with Mirka and my parents,” he said. “We celebrated with friends during my birthday.”

Genie Bouchard: Moonlighting on Tennis Channel

During a week she’d rather be in Montreal competing in the Omnium Banque Nationale, Canadian tennis player Eugenie Bouchard, instead, was in Santa Monica, Calif., on the set of Tennis Channel Live offering commentary and analysis.

The Way Back Machine: 1959 US-Australia Davis Cup

By the numbers

• After John Isner finishing eight of the past nine seasons as the No. 1-ranked American male player, he was surpassed in the rankings by Taylor Fritz in April. Fritz promptly lost that distinction to Reilly Opelka in June. This week, Isner is not only back to being the No. 1 American, but he also leads a group of 14 Americans in the Top 100. According to the ATP Tour, that’s the most since 14 set back during the week of January 22, 1996.

• With both John Isner and Reilly Opelka of the United States reaching the National Bank Open semifinals, the last time two Americans were in the final four was in 1997 with Michael Chang and Chris Woodruff in Montreal.

“Quotable …”

“I first have to realize it’s just a game of tennis. I’m only 21. Yeah, I won this tournament before. I know I could have this tournament again. But sometimes, shit happens and you basically have to move on. That’s life.”

Bianca Andreescu of Canada, during her post-match press conference, after losing 6-7 (5), 6-4, 6-1 to Tunisia’s Ons Jabeur in Thursday’s third round, in match that lasted two hours and 38 minutes, and included a lengthy rain delay and two medical time outs.