In Sunday’s edition of “Battle of the Bots”, Reilly Opelka emerged with the win and a title.
Opelka defeated John Isner 6-3, 7-6(7) to triumph at the Fayez Sarofim & Co. U.S. Clay Court Championship and lift his fourth ATP Tour trophy and his first on clay. The clash between 6’11” Opelka and 6’10” Isner marked the tallest ATP Tour final in the Open Era.
“He was my idol growing up as a kid, and before I even met him, I liked him. But since we’ve become such good friend and spent so much time on Tour, I like him even more now,” Opelka said of Isner during the trophy ceremony. “He’s been an unbelievable role model for not just myself, [but] Taylor Fritz, Frances Tiafoe and Tommy Paul. We all say the same. He’s been an unbelievable competitor for a long time.”
Opelka and Isner often joke with one another that they are “Servebots” — or “Bots” for short — who are only known for their serving. But there were 13 break points in the one-hour, 50 -minute match and five mini-breaks in the second-set tie-break, with the clash coming down to returns and passing shots in the critical moments.
Opelka, who earned the lone break of the match in the first set, saved three set points in the second-set tie-break, rallying from 4/6 down to claim his fifth consecutive win against Isner. The younger American now leads their ATP Head2Head series 5-1 and has won 11 of their 14 sets during that stretch.
“We’ve played a handful of times and you keep on beating me. I hate you for that!” Isner joked. “But it was really cool to play you in a final. I think that’s very unique. Obviously there are a lot of similarities between Reilly and I, but I’m much older than him and he has a lot more years ahead of him on Tour, so for me to get to play you in a final, I think that’s very, very special.”
Entering the match, there had been no breaks in the pair’s three most recent matches. The last break of serve in their rivalry came at the 2019 Australian Open, when both men broke once.
Isner had an early look to break that streak when he lined up an inside-out forehand on break point, but he jammed himself and missed wide. Opelka took full advantage at 4-3 and Isner was unable to adjust to a tough bounce on the forehand side.
That ended up being the only break of the match, but both players put pressure on their opponent’s serve throughout the encounter. Opelka saved all eight break points he faced, as Isner struggled to put an emphatic return in the court in those moments.
Opelka’s backhand return shone through when it mattered the most and although Isner showed courage to rush the net on big points, his countryman often was able to put the ball at his shoestrings to make things difficult. The 24-year-old converted his first championship point when he hit a tough backhand return at the serve-and-volleying Isner, who missed a backhand volley wide.
In his third final of the season — good for second-best on Tour behind only Rafael Nadal (4) — Opelka captured his second title of 2022. The 24-year-old also earned the winner’s hardware in Dallas. All four of his tour-level trophies have come in the United States, but this was his first on clay.
Isner was trying to win his 17th ATP Tour title, and a victory in Houston would have marked his 15th tour-level trophy on home soil. He won the Fayez Sarofim & Co. U.S. Clay Court Championship in 2013 and by beating Opelka would have become the oldest champion at the tournament in the Open Era. That record remains with Andre Agassi, who was victorious aged 32 in 2003.