Friday, October 15, 2021 - Taylor Fritz celebrates after defeating Alexander Zverev in a quarterfinals match on day 12 of the BNP Paribas Open at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden in Indian Wells, California. (Michael Cummo/BNP Paribas Open)
If only confidence were tangible, something that could be taught and honed on a tennis court, like the backhand slice or the kick serve out wide. If that were the case, David Nainkin and Paul Annacone would be more than willing to put in the hours perfecting that quality with their star pupil, Taylor Fritz, who since capping his junior career as the No. 1 player in the world in 2015 has toted the State-of-American-Tennis burden.
Facing World No. 4 Alexander Zverev on a sun-splashed Friday afternoon at the BNP Paribas Open, the Californian, who grew up a few hours’ drive to the southwest in Rancho Santa Fe, saved a pair of match points to move into his first-ever ATP Master 1000 semifinal, 4-6, 6-3, 7-6(3), the very biggest win of his career.
“I kept fighting and kept trying to put myself in situations to get back into it,” said the 23-year-old Fritz, whose mother, Kathy May, was a Top-10 player in the 1970s. “I just felt really confident and went after my shots.”
Fritz captured his first ATP title in 2019 in Eastbourne. That same year, he took down third-ranked Dominic Thiem in Laver Cup play, and became the youngest American in the Top 25 in a decade-and-a-half. But his escape act against Zverev, the reigning Olympic gold medalist, topped it all. The ability to keep his cool with his back against the wall spoke volumes about his maturity as a competitor.
“You can’t practice those situations. You can’t simulate being on a court playing for the points and the money. It’s my whole life, so you can’t simulate that in practice,” said Fritz. “You just have to trust yourself, trust what you’re doing. The best thing you can do off the court is just put the practice in, put the work in so you can trust yourself as much as you possibly can in those situations.”
When it was over, Fritz raised his arms to the Coachella sky, soaking in the moment.
“I was kind of just like, ‘Wow, I did it.’ The fans were going crazy. It’s like a dream come true. It’s tough not to almost like get a little bit emotional, because I’ve worked so hard my whole life for these types of moments. It’s really amazing that it’s paying off.”
Fritz has a real opportunity in front of him. For the first time in the 280 ATP Masters 1000 events held since the start of the series in 1990, all four semifinalists are ranked outside of the Top 25: No. 26 Cameron Norrie, No. 28 Grigor Dimitrov, No. 36 Nikoloz Basilashvili and No. 39 Fritz.
But he’ll need that confidence against the Georgian Basilashvili, himself riding high after a 6-4, 2-6, 6-4 dismissal of No. 2 seed Stefanos Tsitsipas of Greece.
“He’s very tough, especially when he’s playing with confidence,” said Fritz. “He hits the ball so big off of both sides. I just have to kind of play my game, not get too pushy or worried about making balls. I have to be aggressive, stay aggressive, so he can’t really push me around. It makes sense why he’s done well here, because it’s slower conditions. He can hit through it. He has time to set up and just crush the ball. I’ve just got to focus on my own game, serve well, be aggressive, play the big situations well like I did today.”
Basilashvili, 29, has taken some big steps in 2021. Earlier this year, he saved a match point against three-time champion Roger Federer en route to the Doha title. He added the Munich title in May.
He’s split decisions with Fritz in 2021, winning 7-6(3), 6-1 in Doha, and losing 4-6, 6-3, 7-6(4) in Dubai.
One thing’s for sure: Saturday’s semi will be a slugfest; two powerballers going head to head with plenty on the line. Can Fritz summon the confidence to seize the opportunity, to become the first American man to take the BNP Paribas Open title in two decades?