Isner upset by Opelka in four tiebreakers at Australian Open

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MELBOURNE, Australia — It was a bit as if John Isner was looking at a mirror-image across the net at the Australian Open on Monday, facing that rare guy who’s actually a tad taller than he is and can smack serves nearly as well.

And so it was that, even though he hit more aces than his opponent, 47-40, delivered more total winners, 79-64, and finished with more overall points, 147-142, Isner – for the first time in his career – failed to beat an American foe at a Grand Slam tournament.

Reilly Opelka, ranked just 97th, earned his first victory in a main-draw match at any of the majors by edging the No. 9-seeded Isner in four tiebreakers 7-6 (4), 7-6 (6), 6-7 (4), 7-6 (5).

“There’s just a lot of things that are out of your control. That’s something I can relate to. I feel like when I’m playing well, that’s how my opponents think. And I was expecting that today; that I probably wouldn’t get to touch too many balls, too many serves, but I was hoping the same for him,” said Opelka, a 21-year-old who is based in Florida. “I know it’s awkward for both of us.”

The 33-year-old Isner was a semifinalist at Wimbledon last year and entered the day with a 9-0 record in all-U.S. contests at the Slams.

But he does not often go up against someone with a similar profile: At 6-foot-11 (2.11 meters), Opelka is an inch (3 centimeters) taller than Isner.

“It’s been helpful watching him, but at the same time, we’re different. There are similarities, but the ball comes back a lot more for me than it will for him,” Opelka said. “At least for now.”

Because he’s a dozen years younger, and they’re from the same country, Opelka said about Isner: “Of course I looked up to him. He’s been top 15, top 20 in the world for a crazy long amount of time now.”

Still, Opelka hardly was prepared to declare this outcome any sort of breakthrough. He figures he still has plenty to work on.

Instead, he viewed it as a vehicle to help avoid returning to tennis’ lower levels, such as the ITF Transition Tour, where Opelka recalled one tournament this way: “Didn’t have any balls. Didn’t have any courts. Didn’t have any water.”

There were two moments Monday that both men knew helped determine the outcome.

In the second tiebreaker, Isner went ahead 6-4 and served to even the match at a set apiece. But Opelka produced a forehand passing winner to erase the initial set point, opening a four-point run that included a pair of aces and a backhand pass to take that set.

Then Isner went up a break in the fourth set and served to force a fifth while ahead 5-4. Up until then, Opelka had not managed to break Isner’s serve.

“I was ready to play a fifth,” Opelka said. “That’s kind of what I was thinking. … I got lucky to get a break.”

Maybe that’s a fair characterization. Isner did help out, missing one backhand followed by a trio of forehands.

“I held serve the whole match, pretty comfortably. Kind of was uncharacteristic,” Isner said of that one lost service game.

Opelka took the eventual – inevitable? – tiebreaker with the help of three aces, including one at 227 kph (141 mph) to close out the match.

For Isner, it’s the second year in a row that he bowed out in the opening round in Australia.

In 2018, he began the season with six consecutive losses before turning things around and finishing with two titles and a pair of quarterfinals-or-better showings at majors.

“I was 0-6 last year. I’m on my way to 0-6, so we’ll see if I can top that. I’m 0-2 right now,” said Isner, who lost his first match at Auckland, New Zealand, last week.

“Only thing I can do,” he said, “is just keep working.”

Croatia advances in Davis Cup as Coric beats Thiem

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Borna Coric beat 2020 U.S. Open champion Dominic Thiem 7-6 (3), 6-2 on Sunday to send Croatia into the group stage of the Davis Cup.

Coric helped the Croatians win their second Davis Cup title in 2018, but he was sidelined when they lost in the 2021 final while missing a year of action with a right shoulder injury.

He returned to the tour last March, winning a Masters 1000 title in August in Cincinnati, Ohio, and rejoined the Croatians when they reached the Davis Cup semifinals last year.

His victory over Thiem, who has also dealt with injuries in recent years, gave Croatia a 3-1 victory in Rijeka. The Austrians had taken the tie against the No. 1 team in the Davis Cup rankings to a fourth match when Alexander Erler and Lucas Miedler beat Ivan Dodig and Nikola Mektic 6-3, 7-6 (11) in the doubles match earlier Sunday.

Chile, Finland, the Netherlands, South Korea and the Czech Republic also completed victories Sunday to secure their places in the next round, which will be played in September.

On Saturday, the U.S. completed a sweep of Uzbekistan, while Serbia, France, Britain, Switzerland and Sweden also finished off victories. Those 12 countries will play in the group stage, along with reigning champion Canada, 2022 runner-up Australia and wild-card recipients Italy and Spain.

Eight teams will then advance to the closing matches of the Davis Cup Finals scheduled for Nov. 21-26 in Malaga, Spain.

In Sunday’s other matches:

– Finland 3, Argentina 1: On indoor hard courts in Espoo, Finland, Harri Heliovaara and Emil Ruusuvuori edged Maximo Gonzalez and Andres Molteni 7-6 (5), 4-6, 6-4, before Ruusuvuori secured the winning point and a personal 3-0 weekend by beating Facundo Bagnis 7-5, 6-1.

– Netherlands 4, Slovakia 0: On indoor hard courts in Groningen, Matwe Middelkoop and Wesley Koolhof sent the hosts through with a 6-3, 6-3 victory over Alex Molcan and Lukas Klein. Middelkoop then beat Jozef Kovalik 6-4, 6-4.

– South Korea 3, Belgium 2: On indoor hard courts in Seoul, the hosts rallied from a 2-0 deficit after the first day. Min-Kyu Song and Ji Sung Nam kept them alive with a 7-6 (3), 7-6 (5) victory over Joran Vliegen and Sander Gille. Soonwoo Kwon then beat David Goffin 3-6, 6-1, 6-3 before Seong Chan Hong completed the comeback with a 6-3, 7-6 (4) victory over Zizou Bergs.

– Czech Republic 3, Portugal 1: On an indoor clay court in Maia, Portugal, Jiri Lehecka wrapped up the victory by beating Joao Sousa 6-4, 6-1.

– Chile 3, Kazakhstan 1: On an outdoor clay court in La Serena, Chile, Cristian Garin beat Alexander Bublik 6-4, 3-6, 6-3 after the hosts had taken the lead with a victory by the doubles team of Alejandro Tabilo and Tomas Barrios Vera.

Unseeded Parks beats top-seeded Garcia for her 1st title

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LYON, France — Unseeded American Alycia Parks secured a stunning 7-6 (7), 7-5 upset win over WTA Finals champion Caroline Garcia in the Open Metropole de Lyon final to clinch her first career title.

“I think France has a special part in my heart right now,” Parks said. “I’ll be back next year.”

The 22-year-old Parks, who is ranked 79th, had 15 aces and saved all four break points against the top-seeded Garcia.

Parks secured the only break of a tight contest to win the match.

The fifth-ranked Garcia, a U.S. Open semifinalist last year, was seeking a 12th career title.

“Congrats on a great tournament,” Garcia told Parks in English. “If you keep playing like this for sure you’re going to keep going up (the rankings).”

Parks has a career-best ranking of 75th.

The 29-year-old Garcia, who grew up in Lyon, took time to thank her home crowd – this time in French.

“It means a lot to play here, thanks for being here,” Garcia said. “You supported me from the first point to the last. Thanks for all your encouragement.”