Coming Of Age Moment For Fritz In Winning First Masters 1000 Title

Taylor Fritz (photo: ATP Tour video)

INDIAN WELLS/WASHINGTON, March 21, 2022 (by Michael Dickens)

Years from now, Taylor Fritz can look back on Sunday and know that he’ll always have Indian Wells to remember. It was a moment of joy Fritz will always have to cherish. That’s because he became the first American man since Andre Agassi in 2001 to win the BNP Paribas Open in the Southern California palm desert.

The No. 20 seed from Rancho Santa Fe, Calif., about 110 miles southwest from the Indian Wells Tennis Garden, upset World No. 4 and fourth seed Rafael Nadal, 6-3, 7-6 (5). It was the first loss of the 2022 season for the Spanish great and ended Nadal’s 20-match winning streak that began back in January at the Melbourne Summer Set.

In winning the biggest match of his career, Fritz captured his first ATP Masters 1000 crown, and it was just his second ATP Tour title overall and first since Eastbourne in 2019.

“This is just one of those childhood dreams that you never even think could come true,” said Fritz during the trophy ceremony. He did his best to hold back tears as he spoke. “I just can even – I just keep saying no, no, no way it’s real.”

The 24-year-old Fritz, who denied Nadal of winning a record-tying 37th ATP Masters 1000 title, came out fast – a dream start – and opened up a 4-0 lead in the opening set en route to winning it 6-3 after breaking Nadal’s serve three times. Nadal was uncharacteristic in mishitting and misfiring many of his backhand returns.

Although Nadal rallied in the next set and saved a match point at 4-5 (30-40) with a quality return, then escaped with a service hold to prolong matters, Fritz wasn’t finished. Certainly, considering his tenuous physical condition coming into the match – Fritz cut a morning practice short due to a fragile right ankle that he initially tweaked in his Saturday semifinal win against Andrey Rublev – it was amazing that he was able to go all out against Nadal with his ankle heavily taped and accomplish the mission he set out, which was to win the tournament that he’s always felt an affinity toward.

“We did a lot of work leading up to the match and I went through a roller coaster of emotions, thinks that there was no way I could possibly play, to then doing all this work on the ankle, doing so much stuff to it,” Fritz admitted.

Soon, Fritz saved break points, winning a volley duel with Nadal, and held for 6-5 with an inside-out forehand winner. Next, Nadal was seen facedown in front of his bench receiving treatment during the changeover. Considering his own physical maladies, which has included dealing with a recurring foot injury, it’s amazing that Nadal hadn’t broken down – especially after winning a 3-hour, 12-minute three-set duel with Carlos Alcarez a day earlier.

Finally, 21 minutes between the first and second match points, Fritz pulled off the upset of Nadal – winning the final three points of the tiebreak. The final point was a forehand winner that Nadal couldn’t get his racquet on. At last, the tears in Fritz’s eyes began to well up in celebration as he received thunderous applause from the sellout crowd that filled Stadium 1.

In accepting his runner-up trophy, Nadal congratulated Fritz. Then, he added: “It was not possible today. I had a good fight until the end and I’m happy for that. I hope I can keep coming for the next couple of years.”

Meanwhile, Fritz’s triumph was the biggest result by an American man since 2018, when John Isner won the Miami Open. It ended a 21-year American drought at Indian Wells, since Agassi’s and Serena Williams’ victories.

With his title victory, Fritz will move up to No. 13 and become the American No. 1 in the ATP Rankings, while Nadal will move up to World No. 3.

“I’ve lost these matches against the big guys all my life,” Fritz said in press. “It’s always felt like they are just unbeatable, so to do it on the biggest stage, there’s no other way, to win a big title I feel like you have to beat the best.”

By the numbers

In addition to being the first American man since Andre Agassi in 2001 to win the Indian Wells singles title, Taylor Fritz at 24 years-old is also the youngest Indian Wells men’s champion since Novak Djokovic (age 23) in 2011, and the youngest American to win it since Michael Chang (24) in 1996. He’s also the youngest American to win a Masters 1000 title since Andy Roddick (23) in 2006.

“Quotable …”

“Victories like today help. He played well. He went through some great matches during this week, I think, especially yesterday. A lot of credit to him on the victory of yesterday. In my opinion, his victory of yesterday is much bigger than his victory of today because he had [a] much tougher opponent in front yesterday. He already played great matches in Australia, this year if I’m not wrong, against [Stefanos] Tsitsipas.

“It’s obvious that he is improving. With this victory, it’s a great start of the season for him. He will have chance to be very close if not in the Top 10 very soon.”

Rafael Nadal, during his post-match news conference, in praise of Taylor Fritz.