That California vibe. The very moment Southern California native Taylor Fritz steps foot on site at the BNP Paribas Open, it sinks in.
“It just feels really good being here, there are so many positive memories,” the defending champion and current World No.5 told reporters on Wednesday in his pre-tournament press conference. “Just being here I have a sense of confidence.”
That confidence? It comes from crushing it in the Coachella Valley.
Not since the early aughts has an American laid claim to the Indian Wells Tennis Garden the way that Fritz has over the last two seasons. Decades of European domination – the three-headed monster known as Federer, Nadal and Djokovic reeled off 13 titles in the California desert from 2004 to 2017 – has left the public wondering if the days of American supremacy were destined never to return, but with 10 wins in his last 11 matches, and a truly epic victory over Nadal in last year’s BNP Paribas Open final, Fritz is on the cusp of reviving the narrative. Smashing the belief that Americans can’t thrive in the desert.
The 25-year-old called his 2022 title run a childhood dream come true, but he isn’t the only American angling for a piece of the pie at Indian Wells in 2023.
Enter Ben Shelton, the surging southpaw that is quickly making a name for himself on tour this season. It will be the rocket-serving Shelton that lines up across the net from Fritz in the second round action at the BNP Paribas Open, and tennis aficionados are expecting a Saturday second round fight worth writing home about.
Expect an amped-up atmosphere and high-octane shotmaking in Stadium 1 as these two talents lock horns for the first time on tour.
When it comes to American men’s tennis, Fritz has admirably taken the leadership reins, but there is a deep and talented cache of hopefuls waiting in the wings, all of them eager to take their shot at the crown.
Ten American men currently reside in the ATP’s Top 50, and Shelton is the shiny new usurper among them. He may be only 20, and with just 16 tour-level tilts under his belt, but hype don’t lie: Shelton has an electric game that perfectly compliments his on-court swagger.
No doubt aware of the risers in the ranks, Fritz chooses to look at the terrain ahead rather than dwell on who may be coming for him.
On February 27, Fritz became the first American to hold a Top 5 ranking since legend Andy Roddick in 2009. He sees the achievement as a stepping stone rather than a destination.
Some players reach a milestone and take a minute to soak it in, maybe celebrate a bit. Not Fritz – the American is just wired differently.
“I want to push for ending the year in the Top 5 and I want to push for a really big result in a Grand Slam, at least make a final in a Grand Slam,” Fritz said on Wednesday, adding: “I want to give myself that opportunity to play for a [Grand Slam] title and I think that the results I’ve been having, and the tennis I’ve been playing – I just need to deliver that on one of those weeks and it’s possible.”
With that in mind, Fritz is taking the long view as he begins his title defense at Indian Wells
“Obviously I will be taking a step back in the rankings if I don’t defend the title this week, so if it happens it happens,” he says.
Meanwhile Shelton, who outperformed Fritz at the Australian Open, where he reached the quarterfinals, is ready to shoot his shot.
May the best man win.