America’s Reilly Opelka served up an upset on Saturday at the National Bank Open Presented by Rogers as he battled back to overcame third seed Stefanos Tsitsipas 6-7(2), 7-6(4), 6-4 to reach his first ATP Masters 1000 final.
The World No. 32 enjoyed a run to the semi-finals at the Internazionali BNL d’Italia in Rome in May before losing to Rafael Nadal. Opelka ensured he would not fall at the same stage in Toronto as he played big-man tennis. He hammered his groundstrokes and fired down 16 aces to claim his first Top 5 win in his fifth attempt to advance in two hours and 34 minutes.
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“I played great,” Opelka said in his on-court interview. “These courts suit my game, it is no coincidence that John Isner is in the other semi-final. I think we are the two best servers in the tournament, so for us both to be there, it says something about the conditions. It is live.
”Stefanos has definitely improved his returning. Come 5-5 in the first set, a lot of balls started to come back. He is a thinker and has a high tennis IQ, so it was expected, but that is what separates him from the rest of the pack.”
The 23-year-old, who saved a match point in his third-round victory against South African Lloyd Harris, described his tennis as ‘flawless’ after his quarter-final victory against Roberto Bautista Agut. Opelka matched this level against Tsitsipas, not facing a break point to tie their ATP Head2Head Series at 1-1. Opelka is now 3-0 in decisive-set matches in Toronto, having been 0-6 this season before.
No longer a servebot 😉
27 of @ReillyOpelka‘s 46 winners against Tsitsipas came from his groundstrokes.
— ATP Tour (@atptour) August 14, 2021
Opelka could face countryman Isner in the final if the 30-year-old can shock top seed Daniil Medvedev. If Isner does triumph, it will be the first time two Americans have reached the final at Canada’s ATP Masters 1000 since Andre Agassi defeated Pete Sampras in 1995. The last American to reach the championship match in Canada was Mardy Fish in 2011.
“Both Medvedev and Isner are big servers,” Opelka said. “It is going to come down to a couple of points I think. It will be a similar match to this one.”
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There was little to separate Tsitsipas and Opelka in the first set as both players dominated on serve. Opelka looked to target Tsitsipas’ backhand on his first strike in the rally and while he created the only two break points that were on offer in the set in the third game, he was unable to convert. As the set moved to a tie-break, Tsitsipas successfully changed tactics, moving forward on return to great effect to lead.
The second set followed a similar pattern, with both players looking to be aggressive, stepping inside the baseline to try and dictate. Opelka fended off Tsitsipas’ advances in the 11th game to hold. With Tsitsipas then holding to force another tie-break, he quickly fell 3/5 behind as Opelka drew level when Tsitsipas mistimed a forehand.
As they moved into the third set, Tsitsipas had his first break point of the match after two hours and 17 minutes at 2-3. However, he could only float his backhand return into court, with Opelka closing the net to put away the volley before holding. The American then found the breakthrough himself when he forced Tsitsipas into an error with his power. He then held serve twice to secure his victory.
World No. 3 Tsitsipas has recorded a tour-leading 45 wins this year, capturing his first ATP Masters 1000 crown in Monte-Carlo in May. The Greek was trying to reach his second championship match in Toronto, after beating four Top 10 opponents en route to the final in 2018.