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Bothered by shoulder, Reilly Opelka hits 15 aces in Houston win

BNP Paribas Open - Day 10

INDIAN WELLS, CALIFORNIA - MARCH 16: Reilly Opelka returns a shot to Rafael Nadal of Spain during the BNP Paribas Open at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden on March 16, 2022 in Indian Wells, California. (Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images)

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HOUSTON - Reilly Opelka came back from a set down while dealing with an achy shoulder and ended up with 15 aces in a 3-6, 6-2, 6-4 victory over qualifier Mitchell Krueger in the second round of the U.S. Men’s Clay Court Championship.

Opelka is ranked No. 18 in the world and seeded No. 3 in Houston, where he had been 0-3 until Wednesday. This was his first clay-court match of the season as the tour begins to gear up for the French Open, which starts May 22.

“I’m a guy that hasn’t always been the most consistent, especially changing surfaces,” the 24-year-old American said. “I found a way to win and I competed. It shows that I’m more open-minded to different court positions, different tactics, different techniques, different everything. That allows me to kind of find more ways to win when my Plan A and B don’t work.”

Opelka said his right shoulder has been bothering him since the day after a three-set victory over Denis Shapovalov at Indian Wells, California, on March 15. Opelka ended up losing his next match at that hard-court tournament, in the fourth round, against Rafael Nadal in two tiebreakers.

Ten days later, Opelka stopped playing during the second set of his opening match at the Miami Open, citing the shoulder.

An MRI exam showed “there’s nothing major to be worried about,” Opelka said. “Otherwise, I wouldn’t be here.”

On Wednesday, against the 161st-ranked Krueger, Opelka said his kick serve is what caused him the most pain, so he wasn’t reaching back fully. But after getting broken twice in the opening set, Opelka explained, he decided to think of things this way: “I’m just going to go for it - and if it hurts, it hurts.”

With no match scheduled for him Thursday, Opelka said he planned to work on his shoulder with a physiotherapist.

In other matches Wednesday, Nick Kyrgios defeated Tommy Paul 6-4, 6-2 to reach his first tour-level quarterfinal on clay since getting that far in Houston in 2018, lucky loser Michael Mmoh eliminated Sam Querrey 6-2, 6-4 to reach his third career quarterfinal on tour, and qualifier Gijs Brouwer beat wild-card entry J.J. Wolf 6-1, 6-1 at night.

Mmoh got into the field after No. 1 seed Casper Ruud dropped out because of a wisdom tooth problem. Querrey was the runner-up in Houston in 2010 and 2015.