Weight: 225 lbs
DOB: August 28, 1997
Hometown: Palm Coast, Florida
Occupation: Tennis Player
Philippe Zarif (PZ): What initially drew you to tennis when you were younger?
Reilly Opelka (RO): I started playing when I was about 5 years old; I just loved the game from the beginning. I think what’s kept me interested throughout the years is the concept of having full responsibility for my results. Win or lose, it’s on me.
PZ: When did you turn pro, and what were the deciding factors?
RO: I turned pro in April of 2015 when I signed with my agent, Sam Duvall. The deciding factors were the opportunities that I had with my contracts. If I did not have those opportunities, I would have went and played college tennis for either USC or University of Florida.
PZ: Your on-court sponsor is New Balance. Why did you choose them?
RO: I chose New Balance because I really liked the idea of being part of an all-American brand. Also, shoes are a really important part of my equipment, and their shoes are as good as they get.
PZ: Tell us about your daily grind as a young up-and-comer who’s climbing the ranks of the ATP World Tour.
RO: Tennis is definitely a stressful sport. The margins are very small, and the outcomes of my matches come down to just a few points. On a daily basis, I am training about 3 hours on court and 2 hours in the gym. I spend a lot of time stretching and doing rehab and maintenance exercises to keep my body sharp. Traveling is the toughest part for me. Adapting to different playing conditions every single week is what makes the sport so tough.
PZ: Here at Mulch, it is a constant process of growing and learning. After your first year on the ATP World Tour, how do you feel like you’ve grown, and what lessons have you learned?
RO: My first year was full of ups and downs. I definitely learned that success doesn’t come overnight, and I had to understand that it’s a process. My mindset changed a lot from the beginning of the year to the end of the year. I’ve become much more focused on improving my game every single day, and I have an open mind when it comes to trying different things in order to move forward.
PZ: Staying healthy is crucial to succeeding in any sport. What are some of the wears and tears, both physical and mental, you experience during your grueling ten-month-long season? What is your workout regimen from one tournament to the next to stay fit and fresh?
RO: I think fitness is one of the most important parts of the sport, and it’s critical to keep up with it every day. It can be difficult when I’m traveling to different places every week, because the equipment in the facilities can vary from place to place. I have to get creative with what I have to work with to make sure I’m maintaining my fitness and preventing injuries. Mentally, it’s tough when you’re on your own, I’m fortunate that some of my closest friends are on the tour with me, because chilling with them on the road makes life off the tennis court a lot more fun.
PZ: Have you been given any advice that has really stuck with you over the years?
RO: To not compare myself to my competitors and to just focus on getting better every day. That was critical for me to hear, especially when I was growing so much at a young age while the other guys my age were getting better results.
PZ: With the 2017 season underway, have you set any new goals? Do you have separate goals for each tournament?
RO: My main goal for 2017 is to crack the top 100. I don’t have separate goals for each tournament, because in tennis you’re adapting to different conditions almost every week: different surfaces, different balls, etc. Certain conditions favor certain players more than others.
PZ: If you could have one Grand Slam title, which one would you have?
RO: I would want to win the US Open. It would be really special to win a slam in front of the American crowd. It’s been awhile since an American has won a Grand Slam.
PZ: Can you describe what tennis means to you in your own words?
RO: Tennis has been the biggest part of my life since I was 12 years old, which was when I moved away from my family to train at the USTA Training Center. I’ve been pursuing my dream ever since.
PZ: Do you have any pre-match routines or game day rituals?
RO: I have a lot of routines, which I think are really important from a mental standpoint. I usually hit the practice court for 30 minutes, about 2 hours before my match starts. When I’m done hitting, I have time to shower, eat, and prepare for my match. Then about 10 minutes before my match, I like to be by myself in a quiet spot to organize my thoughts before I go on court.
PZ: There must be a lot of up and down moments throughout the season, especially with such quick turnaround times from tournament to tournament. How do you mentally prepare for your next match?
RO: Sticking to my routines helps me get locked in mentally every time I step foot on the court. There are plenty of matches throughout the year where I’m not as locked in as I should be to start the match, but that’s when I have to find a way to get there as the match goes on.
PZ: How do you cope with the pressures of the game? For example, what’s going through your head when you’re going into a 3rd set tiebreaker?
RO: I focus on my strengths, and I try to make the match go on my terms as much as possible. I am a pretty aggressive player, and in those big moments I am very confident in my serve. I know that if I serve well in those big moments, I have a really good shot at winning.
PZ: You seem like a bright and mature kid, an all around good guy. What are Reilly Opelka’s plans when the tennis thing is done?
RO: Good Question! I am still trying to figure that out. I plan on playing tennis ‘til my mid-30s, hoping my body holds up. But I definitely have to find something to keep myself busy, because I get bored easily: I always have to be doing something. I would like to be involved with tennis somehow, but maybe not as much on a full-time basis.
PZ: They are painting you and a couple young American tennis players as the future of American tennis. Do you see yourself being number one, and is there a lot of pressure for that?
RO: I think this generation of American players is really strong. I don’t know if I see myself being number one, and I’m not too concerned about it. I want to be as good as I can be, and I hope that’s good enough for me to win a Grand Slam one day. It’s always been my dream to win a major.
PZ: Why do you wear Mulch?
RO: I wear Mulch because I really like the style and comfort of their pants and shorts. The detail that is put into each pair is unlike that of any other brand I have worn. You can really see the amount of time Mulch puts into their work. I love how everything is handmade in San Clemente, because they can easily make pants in my size and my fit. I feel like getting the right fit is the most important part, and they have that ability because it’s all made in house. I also like how Mulch is always getting new fabrics and new looks. Almost every time I go on their website they have some new looks.
PZ: What’s your favorite meal?
RO: Mexican food, hands down. I love trying different Mexican restaurants wherever I am. I usually order tacos and a burrito.
PZ: What’s your specialty if you’re cooking?
RO: I am a terrible cook. The only thing I can cook is pasta.
PZ: What was your fastest serve?
RO: My fastest serve was 145 MPH.
PZ: What are your ideal playing conditions?
RO: I like a hard court with fast conditions. I also like playing in the heat.
PZ: What’s your favorite car on the road right now?
RO: I like the Ford Raptor or the Mercedes G-Class SUV.
PZ: What’s playing on your iPhone right now?
RO: I have been listening to The Weeknd’s album nonstop. It’s probably my second favorite album of the year, after The Life of Pablo.
Photo credit: Tim McCaig