Photo by Daniel Mcenrue
Atlantic station hosted the Atlanta Open last month, and upon its conclusion, we caught up with young sports star and one of the tallest tennis players in the world, Reilly Opelka (@reillyopelka), the striking athlete taking the tennis world by slam.
Atlanta was the site of your first ATP semifinal and you’ve since come to play in this event several times. What do you enjoy most about playing in Atlanta?
Atlanta is great. As an American tennis player, it is great to play at home. It’s such a nice luxury that we don’t always have. The Atlanta Open really makes you feel at home. Umi is one of my favorite restaurants in the world and it’s right there in Buckhead. I think I ate there four or five nights in a row last year—same with the previous year. I also went to the great High Museum of Art. They had the traveling Calder-Picasso exhibit last year. I love going there. I do kind of get around to exploring a little bit, but it’s mainly been to the High Museum and Umi.
How did you get involved in tennis?
Tom Gullikson, former ATP Tour champion and U.S. Davis Cup captain, was the person who really got me into the game, at every level from 7 years old to junior level to more advanced junior level when I was 11 or 12. He would take me to tournaments, and we would meet some of the pros. Tom had a big influence on my life.
You’ll be 25 years old in August and have had some really successful moments in your career. What has been the highlight of your career thus far?
I would say winning my first ATP title at the New York Open was special for me. To have that under my belt at that time was the highlight. There have been bigger achievements for me—I’ve made a Masters 1000, top 20 in the world—but I really think, at the time, given everything, that was the most important, that was the highlight. It changed my whole year. I was now on the main tour.
As a young professional athlete looking forward to a long career, how are you ensuring that you maintain your health and fitness to increase your endurance?
Nutrition is obviously very important, and I try to eat right, but it’s tough because I love food so much. Some guys are hardcore but that’s just not what I enjoy. But I train hard. We spend about an hour and a half before we play and then spend another hour and a half afterward, plus a lot of gym work. So it’s about five or six hours a day just on your body without tennis involved at all.
Word around town is that summer suits your game play and you play your best on hard courts. Any truth to these statements?
Yes, that is accurate. There’s definitely an advantage to it. The court tends to play a little bit faster and more live. I grew up in Florida, so the heat’s never been an issue for me. It’s just something I’ve been accustomed to since I moved there when I was 4 years old.
Opelka enjoys a number of hobbies including admiring and collecting art. PHOTO BY DANIEL MCENRUE
You were able to play the championship match in front of President George W. Bush at the Dallas Open earlier this year. Give us a picture of that interaction.
It was pretty quick, but he was super nice to Jenson [Brooksby] and me. He definitely has an aura of a president when you’re in his presence. It was pretty special. He was cracking jokes and was pretty funny. It was great for him to come out to the Dallas Open and give his time. The fact that he made the effort to come out says everything about him and it was a special moment.
Many are unaware of your passion for art. What sparked that interest?
It happened when I started playing professionally and spending so much time in Europe. Some days you play your match at 11am and you’re out of there by 1pm. Of course we are working out, but there are some days where we have the hours. There are so many great museums throughout Europe; it’s really hard to pick a city and not find a museum without a Picasso or a Monet or a van Gogh. I saw a lot of great art at a young age and then I just got hooked on paintings in particular.
You enjoy a couple of other unexpected hobbies as well. Share a little about those.
I’m a huge fan of mixed martial arts. That’s one of my favorite things to look forward to on a Saturday night, and I don’t miss too many fights. It doesn’t even have to be a main card; I’m watching all of them. I’m also into interior design. I’ve been through so many museums and galleries and I’ve seen a lot more things that have caught my eye with architecture and interior design, and I have gotten into those interests through art.
Where can Atlantans spot you indulging while you’re in the city?
It doesn’t get any better than Umi. I would put it as probably one of the top three or top four best Japanese restaurants in the country. It’s elite and about as good as it can get. I also like The Optimist—a good little seafood spot.