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Opelka on Beauty and Brutality in Rome


By Richard Pagliaro

Arriving in Rome reeling, Reilly Opelka continues his impressive red clay revival.

Opelka overcame nerves and veteran Argentinian left-hander Federico Delbonis 7-5, 7-6(2) powering into his first career Masters 1000 semifinal.

More: Nadal Knocks Out Zverev

The 47th-ranked Opelka joins 2017 semifinalist John Isner as the second American man in the last 12 years to reach the final four in Rome. This Rome run has propelled Opelka up to No. 35 in the live rankings, one spot behind Isner.

"I'm really pleased," Opelka said. "We have been working hard. I made some adjustments on my game. It's nice to see them come into play."




It's been a remarkable reversal for a man whose early season was a litany of loss.

Spiraling in a six-match losing streak, Opelka had not won a Tour-level match since topping world No. 1,009 Yen-Hsun Lu in his Australian Open opener last February.

This week,  Opelka has painted out the past.

The explosive Opelka has ridden his rocket serve—he's blasted 77 aces with just four double faults and has not dropped serve—to produce the best clay-court run of his career.

The 2020 Western & Southern Open quarterfinalist owns a 6-6 career record vs. Top 10 opponents and has reinforced his reputation as a dangerous threat to the elite.

Though Opelka grew up admiring David Ferrer, the big man suffers no identity crisis on clay. The 6'11" Opelka's not looking to grind or undertake painstaking point construction, he's determined to detonate points and he's blown through the draw without dropping a set.

All red dirt roads ultimately lead to Rafa.

Standing between Opelka and a first Masters final is nine-time Rome champion Rafael Nadal, who knocked out Alexander Zverev 6-3, 6-4 in today's second quarterfinal.

Art aficionado Opelka wears a promotional patch for the Tim Van Laere Gallery on his Fila cap and has reveled in visiting Rome's museums for his art fix.




The man with an appreciation for beauty says he's prepared for the brutality of Nadal on dirt in their first meeting.

"Rafa's brutal," Opelka said. "But it will be a good test. I've never played Rafa. It will be a good test."

Photo credit: Internazional BNL d'Italia

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