There’s a certain Samprasian gait to Taylor Fritz, a natural athletic ease that made him easy to spot even in his junior days, when he was reaching finals in Paris and Flushing Meadows; part of a promising group of American Class of ‘97/’98 hopefuls that included Reilly Opelka, Frances Tiafoe and Tommy Paul. That born-for-tennis promise (parents Guy and Kathy each played professionally) was on display for all to see last year at the BNP Paribas Open, where the Californian simply bullied his way into the final four. Fritz returns five months later with hopes of going all the way.
Before he begins his 2022 run in the desert, we caught up with the 20th-ranked American at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden.
You had such an incredible run here in Indian Wells last year, taking down Italians Matteo Berrettini and Jannik Sinner, then saving two match points to defeat Alexander Zverev to reach a career-best ATP Masters 1000 semifinal. Can you take a few moments to revisit those incredible moments?
It was a huge turnaround for my year. I got here nice and early before the tournament. Got a lot of good practice days in, and I felt like I came into the tournament playing some really good tennis. I had a tough first match and got through it. Then I played Matteo and I had a good feeling about that match, that I could beat him. Then Sinner, I also had a good feeling. We played in practice quit a bit. Again, I played a really good match. Just like that, it was already the quarterfinals and it was already such a good week. It would be amazing to keep going. They were showing it on TV the other day, actually, the match of me and Sascha. I happened to walk in when he was serving for the match. I had to re-watch it. I really don’t know how I was able to win that match. It was amazing to pull that out. I got a lot of confidence from it — semifinals of a home tournament. The feeling was incredible. I’m happy this year there’s going to be even more fans, more people who will hopefully cheer for me. I’m just coming in really confident because of last year.
The photos of your reaction were pretty dramatic; the sun beginning to set over Stadium 1, you raising your fists to the sky, at an event only a two-hour drive from where you grew up.
I couldn’t even believe it, for sure. It’s moments like that that are the reasons why I play tennis and why it is fun competing. That’s what I do it for.
It seemed to catapult you moving forward. You finished the year on a 12-4 run as the top-ranked American man. You kicked off 2022 with some good wins at the ATP Cup, beating Felix Auger-Aliassime and Cameron Norrie, who’s the defending champion here in Indian Wells. Then you broke through to the second week of a major for the first time, upsetting Roberto Bautisa Agut in five sets at the Australian Open. Was the BNP Paribas Open the impetus for all that?
Absolutely. Tennis is such a confidence-based sport, especially for me. I was able to kind of piggyback off the confidence from making the semis here and continue to play well for the rest of the year, go into the offseason feeling confident, continue to work. I feel like I went up a whole level or two and just became a different player. I really feel like I’m coming back this year and I’m a different player.
Last week, you were U.S. Davis Cup captain Mardy Fish’s No. 1 in Reno, helping the Americans to a 4-0 shutout of Colombia. What does it feel like at 24 to be a team leader for Sebastian Korda, Tommy Paul, Jack Sock and Rajeev Ram?
Yeah, I’m No. 1, but I feel like we all play a very important role for the team. I don’t look at myself as a leader. Our leader is our captain, Mardy. It’s my job to go out there and play in that No. 1 spot and win my matches, the same as it was in Reno for Sebi to win his match, which he did, then it was Raj and Sock’s job to win their match, which they did. Everyone went there and did their job. I don’t feel like anyone’s job is more important than the others. We look to Mardy as our leader. It’s awesome being the No. 1 player, but we went there and did what we were supposed to do.
You’ve said you didn’t watch a ton of tennis on TV when you were growing up, but what were the tennis dreams that you did have? Did you look to guys like Pete Sampras, another Southern Californian, and think that was what you wanted to be?
My favorite players were Pete and [Juan Martin] Del Potro and [Roger] Federer. I definitely, my whole life, just wanted to be a professional tennis player. I wanted to be the best tennis player in the world. I’d visualize myself playing the final of a Grand Slam. It’s pretty crazy that I’m here now. If I improve a little more and keep working hard, it might not be too far away from actually happening.