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Sunday, April 26, 2015

My Interview with Reilly Opelka on Signing with Lagardere

I spoke with Reilly Opelka this afternoon after it was revealed last night that he had signed with sports management agency Lagardere, and therefore would be forgoing college tennis.

The 17-year-old senior from Palm Coast, Florida said he had always hoped to be a professional tennis player, but was definitely considering college tennis, with his choice narrowed down to Southern Cal or Florida, until last month.

"It was getting to the point where I had to make a decision for them," Opelka said. "They had to get moving along with their priorities, and that's kind of why the decision came now, how the timing happened. But there was no rush to sign. I would say my mind was 100 percent made up by February or March. I was all in by then, and it was kind of a process signing, getting it in writing and whatnot."

Opelka, who says he was recently measured and now is just a bit over 6-feet 10-inches in height, will be represented by Sam Duvall, who also represents John Isner.

Opelka joked that my question about his height was hardly a unique one.

"I'll be at the mall or wherever and I'll hear the question at least five times a day," Opelka said. "And I usually give five different answers. It ranges from 5'5" to 7'6", just depending on what number pops into my head first."

Opelka said he consulted with his parents and with the USTA, where he has trained for many years, before make the decision to sign.

"The USTA has guided me since I was 12," Opelka said. "The people I've had around me at the USTA I trust more than anyone--Jay Berger, Diego Moyano. Jay's been helping me out since I was 11 years old. And Tom Gullikson, he works for the USTA, and he's probably the only reason I'm playing tennis right now, and at this level. I'm lucky to have known him since I was 6 years old, and he definitely helped me and guided me. But at the end of the day, it was my decision. They were supportive for either option and left it up to me."

"I explored every option pretty well, I think," Opelka said of his decision. "I had college tennis in mind, no doubt. It's a great option for Americans, they think about college tennis more. It's such a high level now, it makes the decision tough.That's a good thing, but it's a little more stressful.  I could play Tommy Paul, Chris Eubanks, Noah Rubin, college tennis is such a high level now, it makes the decision even tougher."

Opelka, who is No. 30 in the ITF junior rankings and 1115 in the ATP rankings, said the fact that he had interest from Lagardere was not a major influence on his decision, but he is happy to have their expertise at his disposal.

"We looked at (turning pro) even before Lagardere came into play, but once they did it helped a lot," Opelka said. "Those guys know what they're doing when it comes down to this. That's what they do. And I really like Sam Duvall."

Opelka said a few nagging injuries have kept him out of competition for the past couple of months, but he is training hard now and is preparing to travel with the USTA to Spain for several Futures before playing the French Open Junior Championships. He is also planning to play Wimbledon Juniors, Kalamazoo and the US Open Junior Championships this year before concentrating exclusively on the professional circuit after that.