Exactly one year ago, we sat down with Taylor Fritz when he signed on to play a second season with the Aviators, his first as an ATP pro (he made his Aviators debut as a junior player in 2015). Fritz has logged some major accomplishments since last year, including reaching a new career-high ranking earlier this year. Now, looking ahead to his third season in San Diego, Fritz will bring the fire that drives his momentum on the ATP tour back to the Aviators this summer.
“2019 has been a great year so far,” says Fritz. “As each tournament passes, I am beginning to feel more comfortable as a touring professional and the experience that I gain is invaluable.” That experience has included facing Top 10 ATP pros John Isner, Kei Nishikori, and two meetings with World No. 1 Novak Djokovic, though it was another matchup that stands out for him. “My highlight this year so far has been playing Roger [Federer] at the Australian Open. Walking onto Rod Laver Arena was incredible and I loved having some of my friends from San Diego cheering me on from my box,” he says. In addition, he’s squared off against close friends including Reilly Opelka, which comes with its own challenges. “It’s always harder when you have to play your friends,” says Fritz. “All of the young American guys are so close and it’s so fun that we are all rising up the rankings together, but when I play one of my friends I have to prepare as if we aren’t close. Tennis is an individual sport at the end of the day, so no matter who I am playing, I have to prepare the same.”
As the French Open, the pinnacle of the clay court season, is set to kick off on Sunday, May 26, Fritz says he is finding his footing on the surface. “This clay court season stretch is always a grind and I have done it before in years past. My experience in my first few years is paying off now because I’m having a strong clay court season, qualifying for all the ATP 1000 [tournaments] and consistently winning rounds on the red clay here in Europe.” Backing up that newfound clay court confidence, this week Fritz has reached the quarterfinals in Open Parc Auvergne-Rhône-Alps in Lyon, France for the second consecutive year. In 2018, his opponent, Borna Coric, beat Fritz and advanced; this year, Fritz bested Roberto Bautista Agut to book his ticket to his first appearance in the semi-finals, where he faces a tricky opponent in France’s Benoit Paire.
But it’s not just on the clay that Fritz is showing his strength. In late January, he hit a career high World No. 40 after successfully defending his title at the Oracle Challenger Series in Newport Beach. “I’ve been working on my net game a lot, staying aggressive and continuing to put pressure on my opponents,” he says of what’s helping to drive him up the rankings. “I still need to work on everything and continue to add weapons to my game. Guys on the tour are so good now and you have to have variety to beat these guys.”
Looking at his peers including Federer, who’s approaching 38 years old, Fritz knows that at 21, he andhis career are still young, offering plenty of time to incorporate those additional weapons. “Players now have much longer careers than they have had in the past,” he says. “I think part of that reason is players now take such good care of their body and science/medicine is allowing players to get the best treatment which prolongs their careers.”
He continues, “I turned professional at 18 years old which was three years ago, and I feel like I’ve been around for longer, but when you put that into perspective, it’s nothing. My coaches and my team tell me all the time that my focus should be long-term and on my development. Believe it or not, I am still in my development stage even though I’ve been playing on the tour for a few years. I try not to let rankings and losses bring me down because the tennis season is ten to eleven months long. There will always be the next tournament and I have to make sure my mindset always is thinking long-term, even if the short term isn’t what I want it to be.”
So, what can fans expect to see when Fritz returns to face Sam Querrey at the Aviators home opener on July 19? “It’s going to be an incredible match,” he says. “Sam and I have had some battles and we practice together so we know each other’s game but with the WTT format, it’ll be a whole new ballgame. We both rely on our serves so I’m going to have to make sure that I serve big and focus on staying in each game, because with no-ad scoring, even if you fall behind quickly in a game, you can always win by rallying off four straight points. The match against Las Vegas on the 19th and my match against Sam will be great preparation for my U.S. hard court summer series. I hope to help S.D. get their home opener win!”