Reilly Opelka, the No. 26-ranked tennis player in the world, and Tommy Paul, the No. 43-ranked player in the world, showed off their skills in a special charity exhibition match in front of a sold-out crowd Thursday night at The Boulevard Tennis Club.
The special event, organized by Vero Beach’s world renowned sports physical therapist Gary Kitchell, benefitted the Sally Wilkey Foundation and could mark the start of annual December tennis charity exhibition with big-name tennis professionals during their brief off-season.
“I’m very grateful for these two top young Americans who are definitely stars on the rise,” said Kitchell of Opelka and Paul, both of whom he has worked with on the ATP Tour. “For them to come and support the Sally Wilkey Foundation, and on of personal level, come and support me as a friend, it means a lot to me.”
The event started with an entertaining question-and-answer session with Opelka and Paul, moderated by Kitchell, followed by a one-set match between the two upstart American tennis stars, won by Opelka 7-6 (7-5) in front of an enthusiastic and appreciative Vero Beach tennis crowd.
Opelka and Paul, both age 24, are part of a new generation of U.S. tennis players who are looking to return American men’s tennis to the upper echelons of the game. An American man has not won a major singles championship since Andy Roddick won the U.S. Open in 2003 and the United States has not won the Davis Cup since 2007. Both Opelka and Paul have played Davis Cup for the United States, captained by Vero Beach native son Mardy Fish, and both have showed glimpses of breaking through into the top 10 in the world rankings. Opelka reached the singles final at the Canadian Open in Toronto, one of the biggest events on the ATP Tour, and the semifinals at the Italian Open in Rome. Paul is fresh off winning his first ATP singles title at the Swedish Open in Stockholm last month.
Opelka, who stands at 6-feet 11-inches tall, is known as one of the fastest and best servers in tennis. However, it was Paul, who stands at 6-foot-one, who shined more with his serve, delivering no less than three aces during the one-set match. While Opelka mainly “kicked” his serve in during the night, he did connect on several rocket forehands, including a passing shot winner to close out the match at 6-5 in the tiebreaker.
The Sally Wilkey Foundation is a non-profit organization that enriches the lives of vulnerable local children through tennis. It helps to fund tennis for children who would not otherwise be able to afford to play, offering weekly tennis lessons as well as educational support, meals and equipment.