Towering at 6’11”, Reilly Opelka had never before reached the kind of heights that he has in Rome. The big-serving American has reached the semifinals of the ongoing Italian Open on the back of a stunning run that saw him get the better of accomplished clay-courter Federico Delbonis of Argentina, Dubai Open champion Aslan Karatsev, home favorite Lorenzo Musetti, and veteran Frenchman Richard Gasquet.
Coming into the tournament carrying the emotional burden and trauma of a six-match losing streak and a 2-7 win/loss record this season and a harrowing experience with COVID-19 , 23-year-old Opelka has arguably gone the deepest he ever has in a Tour event.
After his loss to Australian Alexei Popyrin in the opening round at Miami, further misfortune struck the 23-year-old as he came down with COVID-19.
Opelka experienced the debilitating symptoms of the deadly viral ailment for days, the worst of which was a “really bad heartburn.”
“It was keeping me up at night and I was shivering. The heartburn would get bad whenever I’d lay down or even sit down. I literally spent the entire first night in my backyard doing laps around my pool in sweatpants and it was super hot out,” the American said.
He said he had to keep walking to not experience heartburn, adding that the condition persisted for two to three days.
“I had only had heartburn once or twice before…It was really weird and then I was throwing up and then I did have a really bad fever and aches and headache and stuff,” the current World No.47 said.
Though Opelka has been modest enough to attribute his dream run in Rome to a “fluke,” it’s been anything but that, as he has been firing Scuds off his handle and whipping winners with similar abandon to record his best-ever performance on clay.
After fighting past Delbonis to reach the last-four, the American said he has been surprised with his run as clay isn’t his preferred surface.
“I am surprised. Clay is not really my thing. (It is) not much of an American thing. It is probably just a fluke, but I’ll run with it,” Opelka said at the post-match press conference.
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However, Opelka faces his toughest test in the Italian Open semi-final on Saturday as he will battle nine-time champion and 11-time finalist Rafael Nadal for a place in the final.
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