After scoring their second-round wins on Wednesday, Rafael Nadal and Reilly Opelka are through to the last 16 at the City Open in Washington. Speaking about Rafa, Reilly praised him as his favorite player and idol. The American admitted that he could not do much against the Spaniard in their only clash on the Tour this May in Rome, despite giving his best and leaving an admiration towards Rafa aside.
Reilly played on a high level at Foro Italico to advance into the first Masters 1000 semi-final, where he faced the ultimate Rome Open legend Nadal. Rafa beat a giant server 6-4, 6-4 in an hour and 32 minutes to advance into the 12th final in the Italian capital.
Nadal endured one challenging game and delivered one break in each set to emerge at the top, beating the American in the more extended exchanges to sail into the title clash. Facing the ultimate challenge, Rafa saved four break points at 1-2 in the opener with winners and avoided an early setback.
Gathering a boost, Nadal secured a break in game five when Opelka sprayed a forehand error and held with a forehand slice winner for a 4-2 advantage. The American had to dig deep in the seventh game, struggling to win easy points and facing three break chances.
Rafa failed to convert any, and Reilly remained within one break deficit to extend his opportunities. In game eight, the Spaniard held at love with a service winner and closed the opener with another perfect hold at 5-4 after 50 minutes.
Opelka held at 15 in the second set's opening game with a service winner before Nadal did the same for 1-1.
Reilly Opelka praised his idol Rafael Nadal.
In the third game, the American sent a backhand long to propel the Spaniard in front, and Rafa held at love to open a 3-1 gap.
Nadal grabbed the sixth game at love for 4-2, and Opelka repeated that to stay within one break deficit. Rafa fired a service winner in game eight to secure a 5-3 advantage and served for the victory in game ten. From 30-15 down, Rafa claimed three straight points to move over the top and advance into his 12th Rome Open final since 2005.
"With my style of play, unfortunately, there was not much to do against Rafa. The simple fact of facing Rafa was already great; he is the greatest and was playing at one of his favorite tournaments. Growing up, he was always my favorite player; I dressed up as him twice on Halloween, so facing a legend like him is amazing.
I have a lot of respect for him. We have grown up idolizing these players, but another thing is to leave the court defeated; I no longer tell you about asking for a selfie at the end of the match. A line must be drawn on these issues.
I have the utmost respect for Rafa; he is the greatest, he was my favorite player, and he always will be. Still, the day we played, I entered the court and tried to beat him," Reilly Opelka said.