Reilly Opelka Outduels Nick Kyrgios To Reach Houston Final |  ATP Tour

Reilly Opelka Outduels Nick Kyrgios To Reach Houston Final | ATP Tour

Reilly Opelka edged Nick Kyrgios in two tight sets to reach his first clay-court final on the ATP Tour Saturday at the Fayez Sarofim & Co. US Men’s Clay Court Championship.

The American’s 6-3, 7-5 win puts him through to his third tour-level final of the season, with all three coming on American soil. His three finals in 2022 is second only to Nadal’s four.

“I’ve progressed every match,” Opelka said of his performance in his first clay event of the season. “I’ve felt more and more comfortable moving and sliding and all that.

“Every warmup I’ve had has been long because I’ve been trying to get more feel and more comfort on this stuff. It’s not second nature like it is for Garin. He can take a year off and come here and feel right at home. Different story for me.”

The third seed hit 18 aces in the match to Kyrgios’ 11, and won 86 per cent (24/28) of his first-serve points.

One break was enough for Opelka to take the opening set, and he again drew first blood on the return in the second to lead 4-3. But Kyrgios broke back immediately on his only break chance of the match to set up a final tense. The American did not drop another point on serve in his final two service games, either side of his third break of the match at 5-5.

Opelka will face 2013 Houston champion John Isner in an all-American final, after his countryman came from behind to beat defending champ Cristian Garin, 4-6, 6-3, 6-4.

“Both of them have won here before, have had a lot of success here before,” Opelka said before that second semi-final.

“That’s what you want in the final. For the tournament’s sake… you want it to be the best match you can get,” he continued.

“I think this draw here, with Garin, Fritz, Isner, Kyrgios, Tommy Paul, who’s great on clay, it’s a stacked tournament, a very stacked field. It comes down to playing high-level tennis because it’s a high-level draw .”

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In the second semi-final, Isner’s serve improved as the match wore on and ultimately propelled him to victory. He faced four break points in the opening set, then one in the second and none in the deciding stanza, hitting 17 aces along the way.

The 36-year-old is through to his third Houston final after first contesting the title match in 2012.

“It’s never easy when you have to come back form one set down,” Isner said. “My serve certainly helped me out a lot. I didn’t have to hit too many balls there at the end, and I didn’t want to.

“I’m so happy to be in the final again here. At my age now you never really know when you can get back to a final of a tournament like this.”

The turning point of the match came in the second game of set two, the longest game of the one-hour and 54-minute contest. On Isner’s fifth break point, Garin was called for a foot fault on second serve, handing the American the game. After that blow — and a lengthy discussion with the chair umpire and later a tournament supervisor — the Chilean could not sustain top form down the stretch.

Both men continued their streak of exclusively playing three-setters this week in Houston, with Isner now 3-0 including another comeback win over Steve Johnson in his opener.

Opelka leads Isner 4-1 in their ATP Head2Head series, winning their past four meetings. Each of their past 12 sets have gone to tie-breaks, including the historic 24-22 tie-break that decided their Dallas semi-final in February. That 46-point tie-break is the longest in ATP Tour history.

“Reilly’s a great player,” Isner previewed. “Of course our matches are inherently close. We both serve very well, so we play a lot of close matches. It’s going to be fun for me. He’s definitely a younger version of myself — a younger, much hairier version of myself,” he joked.

“We really are great friends,” he continued. “I think he looks up to me… and I try to mentor him as best I can. But I won’t be doing that tomorrow.”

All of the action from Houston can be seen on ESPN3 in the US, with Sunday’s final set to begin at 2 pm local time.

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