Dozens of tennis fans, including the mayor, welcomed the 18-year-old champion back to Palm Coast.
Standing at 6 feet 10 inches tall, it wasn’t hard to spot the reigning Junior Wimbledon champion in the midst of fans who flocked to the Palm Coast Tennis Center to congratulate Reilly Opelka, as he took pictures with them and signed tennis balls on Friday, Sept. 18.
“I appreciate all the support from Palm Coast; it’s been great,” Opelka said. “This is like the first week I’ve had off since Wimbledon; it’s been pretty busy for me.”
Since shocking the tennis world by beating the top junior players to win Wimbledon, Opelka has competed in tournaments and has trained nonstop. He mentioned that he was about to head out West to California and Las Vegas to play in other tournaments.
Some of those who showed up to commend the Palm Coast native were Mayor Jon Netts, Agnes Lightfoot, Vice President of Friends of Tennis, a non-profit organization that is closely associated with the center, and Cindi Lane, Palm Coast’s Communications and Marketing Manager.
“We were so excited this week, when his mom called Debbie Stanfield at the Tennis Center and said that he was in town,” said Cindi Lane,. “So, we put together the event quickly. He was on the radio this morning, and it’s great to see such a nice big crowd show up to show him how Palm-Coast-proud we are of him.”
Also in attendance was Jack Mikutel, a third-grader at Rymfire Elementary School, with his father and mother, who allowed him to skip school to meet Opelka.
“I was really excited when I heard I was going to be able to come here,” Jack said. “Usually, when I see people who step out on the court, I always think that someday it might be me.” Jack has been playing tennis since he was 3 years old, and he was thrilled he got to meet one of his favorite players, in Opelka.
Opelka was donned from head to toe, sporting athletic gear from New Balance, which is his new sponsor.
“I actually finalized the contract at Wimbledon, a few hours after I had won,” he said. “I had started wearing New Balance a week before, so we knew there was a deal on the line, and we kind of finalized it there.”
Opelka, who trains in Boca Raton, played in the USTA Pro Circuit Men’s Futures Tournament at the Palm Coast Tennis Center in January, and, when asked if he’d play this upcoming year, he was unsure, due to his schedule. That’s when Lightfoot shouted out, “Well, you’re always welcome here; we’ll always have court time for you!”
“Palm Coast has always been a huge supporter of Reilly. The whole tennis community here has always been cheering him on over the years, and we really felt it over at Wimbledon, with social media. My phone was lighting up from the minute he played his first match. I really don’t have any words for it.”George Opelka, Reilly’s father