A 2021 BNP Paribas Open snapshot: sun-kissed Taylor Fritz, arms raised skyward as he soaks in the applause of a packed Stadium 1, family and friends among them. The American had just rallied from 5-2 down in a deciding set, saving two match points to defeat then-World No.3 Alexander Zverev.
Fritz would fall in his first Masters 1000 semifinal a day later, but the wheels had been set in motion.
For the Southern California native, a soft-spoken, hyper-driven talent with a body seemingly built for crushing clean and mean groundstrokes, something magical had clicked into place. Belief was snowballing, it was time for a shakeup in the California desert, and the rising American was ready to take it all on his shoulders…
A former junior No.1 and the son of Kathy May Fritz, a former Top 10 WTA talent who hailed from Beverly Hills, Fritz continued his momentum in 2022, embarking on an Indian Wells run for the ages that saw him take out icon Rafael Nadal to become the first American champion in the California desert since 2001.
He hasn’t stopped climbing since. On February 27, the 25-year-old became the first American to hold a Top 5 ranking since Andy Roddick in 2009.
Though he’s an integral part of the thriving competitive culture that currently exists in American men’s tennis, Fritz doesn’t see himself as the leader. But he does believe that his accomplishments – the aforementioned BNP Paribas Open title and Top 5 ranking among them – do hold heavy weight among his peers.
“I wouldn’t say ‘leader,’ but I think I’ve shown everyone what’s possible, because they’ve always known they can play with me and can compete with me, and if I’m able to do something then I know that they believe they can do it too.”
Brad Stine, the legendary coach who currently guides American Tommy Paul, believes that Fritz is setting an invaluable example for his peers.
“What it comes down to really, and what separated Taylor from the other guys, is a level of consistency, week in and week out,” he said.
Stine says that Fritz’s rise forces the Americans to ask themselves tough questions about their games.
“I think it also creates an atmosphere where both from a player and a coaching standpoint, you look at it and you say, ‘Well, what’s he doing differently that I’m not doing? What’s led to this fact that now he’s gone deeper in these events than any of the rest of us have gone?’”
This curiosity has paid dividends lately, with Frances Tiafoe and Paul reaching semifinals at the Grand Slams – something that Fritz has yet to do.
Fritz may be the top American by ranking, but he knows – and is happy about the fact – that his buddies from the junior days are gunning for his crown.
“I guess it’s extra motivation as well to try and catch me, try and gun for me, I guess,” Fritz said on Monday, after powering past Martin Fucsovics to reach his third consecutive quarterfinal at the BNP Paribas Open. “That doesn’t change the fact that we’re all extremely close friends. It’s great to see them step up as much as they have in the past six months, for sure.”
Here at Indian Wells, no American has stepped up like Fritz has. He rides a nine-match BNP Paribas Open winning streak into the quarterfinals, and has claimed 12 of his last 13 decisions in the California desert.
But that could change this weekend, as Tiafoe has already booked his spot in the last four. Having grown up with Fritz, and faced him on tour in the under 14s as a wide-eyed junior, Tiafoe couldn’t help but be inspired by watching his friend win the title in 2022.
“It helps me believe,” Tiafoe said on Wednesday after easing past Cameron Norrie in the quarterfinals. “You know, I’m like, ‘Taylor Fritz can do this, why not?'”
Tiafoe says it is just a matter of time before more success comes.
“Everyone’s time is different,” he adds. “My time was the US Open… His time was here last year. Tommy, his time was in Australia. Everyone is going to have their moment, but I think seeing guys you grew up with do X, Y, Z, that helps you, for sure. There’s no doubt about it.”
Fritz may not be the official leader, but make no mistake about it, he has set the tone for the American men, and helped spur his compatriots further. His triumph here in 2022 helped spark a revival, and the sun shows no sign of setting on it.