Born just eight days apart, Taylor Fritz and Andrey Rublev have grown to be familiar foes over the years, beginning with their tussles as top-ranked juniors back in 2014. So there were few surprises on Saturday when they faced off in the BNP Paribas Open semifinals, their fifth tour-level encounter: Just two of the heaviest hitters in the men’s game exchanging blows from the baseline.
But it was Fritz, who grew up just two hours down the road in the San Diego suburb of Rancho Santa Fe and continues to treat this event as his home tournament, who would advance, into his first ATP Masters 1000 final with a 7-5, 6-4 triumph.
“It doesn’t even seem real,” said Fritz, the first American man to reach the Indian Wells final since John Isner in 2012. “It’s such a dream come true. It’s all the hard work I’ve put in throughout the years. I can see it finally paying off. It’s reason why I play tennis.”
Fritz snapped Rublev’s 13-match winning streak, which traced back to Valentine’s Day and included back-to-back titles at Marseille and Dubai.
Fritz pressured Rublev’s serve from the start, breaking his opponent for an early 3-0 advantage in the opening set. Rublev would return the favor, leveling the set at 5-all, only to be broken for the set two games later, the unforced errors beginning to mount. Channeling his countryman Mikhail Youzhny, Rublev subsequently bloodied his hand taking out his frustration on his racquet.
The 24-year-olds remained on serve through the first nine games of the second set, but with Rublev serving to stay in the match at 4-5, 30-40, Fritz forced an error off the return to seal the match in one hour and 50 minutes.
“I had a really clear game plan,” said Fritz, who improved to 3-2 against Rublev. “I wanted to establish that in the beginning, being really aggressive. I felt like that paid dividends and set the tone for later on in the match. He started playing a lot better, attacking a lot more in the second. I just told myself that I needed to keep holding on until I got my chance.”
Five months ago, Fritz stood tall on this very same court, saving two match points against Alexander Zverev to reach the semifinals. On Saturday, he took a step further, ready to face either 21-time Grand Slam champion Rafael Nadal or 18-year-old sensation Carlos Alcaraz.
“It’s going to be a really different match depending on which one of them wins,” Fritz observed. “But Rafa’s Rafa, and Alcaraz has been playing really well this whole week. He’s an amazing player. I’m going to have to play a lot like I did today.”
Fritz would finish with five aces to three double faults, and convert three of 11 break-point opportunities.