Taylor Fritz was barely hanging on. Facing bullish Spaniard Fernando Verdasco in the third round of the BNP Paribas Open on Monday, the American was not-so-secretly fighting a second opponent, too. A nasty cold.
The veteran Verdasco was imposing his will, muscling the ball through the court. Fritz was just trying to stay upright.
But the rising #NextGen star, who last year scored the first Top-10 win of his career with an upset of Marin Cilic on these very same courts, hung in there long enough to find some energy and work his way back into the match. After drawing level at a set apiece, he pushed the contest into a winner-take-all third-set tiebreak, where he improved to 11-1 in final-set breakers.
“Our goal is to make sure that he continues to learn that those tiebreakers — that’s the sense of urgency you play with the entire match,” coach/commentator Paul Annacone told ATP Tennis Radio.
“He persevered really well,” added Annacone, who recently joined Fritz’s team, headed by USTA Player Development coach David Nainkin. “That’s one of the things I’ve noticed — he’s one of the rare few at a young age that trusts himself in the big moments, that understands the sense of urgency without turning that sense of urgency into a sense of pressure and panic. He trusts his skills and knows what he wants to try to execute in the big moments. That’s a testimony number one, to Taylor, for a 20-year-old to figure it out, and number two, it’s what David’s kind of ingrained the last few years. I just think there are so many great seeds that have been planted. Now it’s just kind of about watering them for a bit and letting him play, letting him grow, because the sky’s the limit.”
Fritz didn’t miss a first serve in the tiebreaker.
“I think it speaks to my strengths on court, which is just being clutch and playing my best tennis in the big moments,” said Fritz. “When it comes down to it like that, I don’t get too nervous. I’m aware of, and it’s probably the stat that I’m most proud about in my tennis career, my third-set tiebreak records. It shows that I’m clutch.”
It’s a real confidence vote that Annacone agreed to sign on with Fritz. He has worked with some pretty imposing names, after all: Roger Federer, Peter Sampras, et al.
“I’m just an ingredient that tries to add some value,” Annacone said. “The teamwork has been tremendous. David has really helped me understand the situation really well. Taylor, for a 20-year-old, is so diligent about wanting to learn and wanting to get better. He understands the process orientation versus immediate results. We have to reel that in once in a while as you would with a 20-year-old.”
Fritz won’t have much time to recuperate. Playing the biggest match of his career at the ATP World Tour Master 1000 event, he’ll now face fellow young gun Borna Coric for a spot in the quarterfinals. The streaking Croat had dropped just nine games over three rounds, a run that includes a pair of 6-Love sets.
“Both of those guys are great, up-and-coming players,” said Annacone. “Coric has played terrific here, hitting the ball really offensively, very confident, very comfortable. It’s always great to see two guys close to the same age, same generation, play each other, see how they handle the expectations, that perceived pressure. I think it’s a great opportunity for both players. I just want Taylor to go out there and play his game, do what he does best in the big moments.”