At just 19 years old, budding American tennis star and former Palm Coast resident Reilly Opelka is drawing in crowds from all over the country.
When tickets went on sale for the Stowe Mountain Lodge Classic, Tournament Director Kyle Ross noticed an interesting trend.
Barely an hour after tickets became available, Ross noticed an increasing amount of tickets being purchased from the Orlando-based area.
The athlete those spectators are traveling over 1,000 miles to see: professional tennis player and former Palm Coast resident Reilly Opelka.
“We have people from the Orlando-base area buying tickets to travel up here to specifically see him,” said Ross, who also handles marketing and public relations for Grand Slam Tennis Tours. “He’s a 19-year-old who can move tickets to events all the way across the country.”
The event — held in Stowe, Vermont, on Aug. 22 to 24 — is an exhibition match designed to help players warmup for the U.S. Open the following week in Flushing, New York.
The event will feature six ATP Tour players, including American Francis Tiafoe, arguably the best 19-year-old tennis player in the world.
Opelka is part of a group of young Americans labeled the “Next Generation” of professional tennis, Ross said.
In addition, Ross said he hasn’t seen this kind of crowd pull from a young American since Andy Roddick.
“There’s no other American player right now who people consider such a prospect and would really travel to see," he said. “We have some good Americans in this 'Next Gen' group, but none of them are getting the same buzz as Reilly.”
Opelka’s father, George, still lives in Palm Coast.
He said he’s not too surprised his son is drawing in large crowds at such a young age.
“Tennis fans are a bit of a cult,” he said. “If an exhibition is in a destination place, tennis fans will find a way to get there, especially if they have a connection with a player.”
For Opelka, who now lives in Orlando, tennis has kept him connected to a community he spent much of his life in.
“That’s why I always love going back to Palm Coast,” Opelka said. “And that’s why I’m always going to be interested in doing events in Florida and to help grow tennis in Palm Coast.
“I’ll always be open to giving back because of what they’ve done for me.”