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“He was my idol growing up as a kid”- Reilly Opelka pays tribute to John Isner after historic all-American title clash in Houston

Reilly Opelka defeated fellow American John Isner in straight sets to clinch his first clay-court title at ATP Houston 2022.

Reilly Opelka and John Isner

3rd seed Reilly Opelka defeated compatriot John Isner in an all-American final at the 2022 U.S. Men’s Clay Court Championship in Houston to lift his maiden title on clay. It was the tallest clash in an ATP tour final in the Open Era and it was Opelka who emerged victorious, 6-3, 7-6(6).

There was no break of serves in their last three clashes, but Opelka got the decisive break in the first set to win it 6-3. This was also the first time since the pair’s first meeting at the 2019 Australian Open that the set didn’t end in a tiebreak. However, the big-serving Americans both brought out their serving masterclass in the second set to go into a tiebreak. Opelka saved 3 set points from Isner and then converted his first match point to clinch his second title of the year.

Opelka had a stellar season on US soil this season. The American won his first title of the year at the Dallas Open before a runner-up finish at the Delray Beach Open. He had a good outing at the Indian Wells as well, before withdrawing from the Miami Open with a shoulder injury. Now the 24-year-old bounced back in emphatic fashion now with a title triumph in Houston.

He’s been an unbelievable competitor“: Reilly Opelka on John Isner

John Isner vs Reilly Opelka

Opelka had kind words of admiration for his ‘idol’, Isner, and heaped praise saying the 36-year-old is a role model to not only him but also other American tennis players. This was the sixth time the duo locked horns against each other. Isner won their first match-up but since then it was the younger American who emerged triumphant.

“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. 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 said during the on-court interview.

Isner was playing in his first final on clay since 2013, the last time was also in Houston. The American was aiming to become the oldest champion in the tournament’s history and break Andre Agassi’s record, who won at the age of 32. But he fell short in the title clash against Opelka and lost to the 24-year-old for the fifth time in a row.

“We’ve played a handful of times and you keep on beating me. I hate you for that!. 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,” Isner said.

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