The life of a touring pro is often that of a vagabond. Much of their time is spent packing/unpacking suitcases, boarding/de-boarding planes, checking in/checking out of hotels. So it sure feels good when you get a chance to play within earshot of your hometown, with family and friends there to support you. That’s been the case for Taylor Fritz in Indian Wells, which is just a 104-mile hop, skip and a jump northeast of his Rancho Santa Fe birthplace.
It was here in the desert, after all, that the 20-year-old Californian scored the first Top-10 win of his career, stunning seventh-ranked Marin Cilic last year in three sets. And on Thursday afternoon in Stadium 1, Fritz scored another important win on his home turf, this time saving a match point against fellow American and close friend Reilly Opelka to advance 4-6, 7-6(6), 6-4. He moves on to the BNP Paribas Open’s second round, where he’ll meet another #NextGen standout, 27th seed Andrey Rublev of Russia.
“I’m pretty lucky,” said Fritz. “I could have lost the first set 6-0. He almost broke me in the first three games I served. There wasn’t much I could do. I felt I was hitting my spots, but he was lasering returns back. I told myself, ‘Just play your game. If he keeps doing this, it’s too good. He’ll beat anybody playing like that.’ I was down a set and a match point in the second-set tiebreaker and I honestly didn’t think I was doing anything wrong. When somebody is playing like that, you just have to weather the storm.”
Onetime junior rivals, they had each claimed junior Grand Slam titles in 2015, Opelka at Wimbledon and Fritz at the US Open. They both reached the quarterfinals weeks ago in Delray Beach.
The 6-foot-11 Opelka took control of the contest early on, breaking Fritz to open the match. He regularly clocked 140 mph from the service stripe, and collected eight of his 19 aces in the first set alone.
But Fritz, playing with former Roger Federer/Pete Sampras advisor Paul Annacone in his corner, hung in there to force a tiebreak in the second set. He saved a match point at 5-6, and would go on to level the match when Opelka double faulted at 6-7.
The unforced errors began to mount for Opelka in the third set (he would amass 31 on his forehand side in the two-hour, 20-minute match), and was broken in the ninth game, providing all the cushion Fritz would need.
Elsewhere on Thursday, Jeremy Chardy defeated fellow Frenchman Julien Benneteau 6-4, 7-6(9). Chardy registered 12 aces in the one-hour, 51-minute win, taking a 2-1 advantage in their FedEx ATP Head2Head. He’ll next face No. 16 seed Fabio Fognini of Italy.
No. 49 Borna Coric made quick work of Donald Young, improving to 3-0 against the American with a speedy, 57-minute 6-0, 6-2 win in Stadium 2. Coric converted all five of his break-point chances on the day.
Argentina’s Horacio Zeballos needed three sets and nearly three hours to down Japan’s Yuichi Sugita 6-7(5), 6-4, 7-6(4). Big-serving Croat Ivo Karlovic dropped a tight three-setter against Germany’s Maximilian Marterer 6-7(13), 7-6(4), 6-3.
Denis Shapovalov, one of four Canadian men in the main draw, was a 6-3, 6-4 winner over Lithuanian qualifier Ricardas Berankis. The 18-year-old sensation overcame seven double faults and a first serve percentage of 47 percent (25 of 53) to move into a second-round matchup with 30th seed Pablo Cuevas.
American Steve Johnson wasn’t as fortunate. The former USC standout was knocked out of the draw by Russian Daniil Medvedev, 7-6(0), 6-4. Medvedev earned a second-round meeting with 2017 quarterfinalist Nick Kyrgios of Australia.