Taylor Fritz is in the midst of a breakthrough season, reaching his first Grand Slam quarterfinal, winning three tour titles and recently becoming the first US man to make his debut in the top 10 of the ATP rankings since 2017.
A son of two ex-pros, Fritz first picked up a racket at age two, so he’s known the sport nearly all of his life — he turns 25 next Friday — but that doesn’t mean it’s what consumes him.
“I guess I wouldn’t necessarily say what I love is playing tennis. What I love is competing,” Fritz said in a telephone interview ahead of next week’s indoor hard-court tournament in Vienna. “When I’m not playing tennis, in my free time, I’m still doing something that involves me competing.”
That often is video games, maybe Apex Legends or League of Legends or Call of Duty, on the laptop with which he travels the world.
“I need to be playing a game where there’s some kind of a ranking system. It’s non-stop. It’s just what I enjoy and what I find fun — competing against people, trying to beat people, trying to get better,” he said. “I’ve always been like that on the court, too. I hate to lose.”
Fritz’s coach, former player Michael Russell, understands how the intensity translates.
“He’s very stubborn, which great athletes are, because they know what they want and they’ll do what they know will get it,” said Russell, Fritz’s full-time coach for a year. “Taylor definitely falls in that category.”
Entering 2022, Fritz was ranked outside the top 20. He never had been past the third round at a Grand Slam tournament. Never had been past the semifinals at a Masters 1000. Never had won an ATP 500.
So much has changed.
He moved up to a career-best No. 8 by beating another 24-year-old American, US Open semifinalist Frances Tiafoe, in the final of the 500-level Tokyo Open this month (Fritz is No. 9 this week). That came after Fritz flew to Japan on the day of his first match because he tested positive for COVID-19 while in South Korea and needed to quarantine for a week in his hotel room there.
“Most players, you’d be surprised if they were able to even play the match and not get injured, let alone find a way to win,” Russell said. “Taylor was saying the whole time, ‘I’m going to win. It doesn’t matter that I haven’t hit a ball in seven days. I did some fitness in the room and I trust my hand-eye coordination and my timing and I’m going to prove to everyone that I can win this tournament even without any preparation.’ And he did.”
Fritz is 41-17 this year and raised his career title count to four.
One came in June on grass courts at Eastbourne, England. One arrived in March on hard courts at the Masters 1000 in Indian Wells, California, with a victory over a then-unbeaten Rafael Nadal in the final.
“That just gave Taylor so much belief going into tournaments that he could be the last man standing. He actually believed it. One thing is saying it, but another is actually believing it, deep down inside. That’s what’s changed,” Russell said. “He’s started to play more aggressive in the pressure situations and not just waiting for his opponents to give him matches, which is kind of the mentality he had in the past.”
“I need to be playing a game where there’s some kind of a ranking system. It’s non-stop. It’s just what I enjoy and what I find fun — competing against people, trying to beat people, trying to get better.”
— Taylor Fritz
At the majors, Fritz made it to the fourth round at the Australian Open in January, then the quarterfinals at Wimbledon in July.
“I definitely have had the confidence all year that I feel like just my regular level, my regular game, is top-10 material,” Fritz said. “I worked really hard, for a really long time, to get to this point. I’ve had a really good year. And now I set my next goal — top five — and we go from there.
“The end goal is to try to be No. 1 in the world. I’m definitely not satisfied.”