Fritz Blitz in the Desert – Taylor Topples Zverev

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Bill Simons

Indian Wells

Taylor Fritz is good – real good – at tennis. 

His big serve and mighty forehand are right out of the American playbook. The product of an extraordinary Southern California clan, at 23 he’s already a father and has reached No. 24.

In any other sport he’d be in All-Star games or Pro Bowl line-ups. On the relentless ATP circuit he’s been a battler who’s bravely paid his dues. A mere 21 days after having knee surgery, he excelled at Wimbledon. Well coached and well traveled, he’s made many runs deep into tourneys everywhere. 

He wins a lot. Just not enough for tennis’ demanding fans. 

The broad-chested Rancho Palos Verdes’ resident, who has banked $5 million in prize money, just hasn’t broken through with a huge title. He won Eastbourne, but tennis’ intense fans want big titles. Taylor has never gone beyond the third round of a major.

But this year in Indian Wells, which is a sort of a home court for Fritz, he seemed energized, beating a neighbor, San Diegan Brandon Nakashima, and bringing down two powerful Italians, Wimbledon finalist Matteo Berrettini and world No. 14 Jannik Sinner.

Today he was seeking his first ever Masters semifinal. Unfortunately, the man who many consider to be one of the best three players in the world was across the net from him today. Fritz had prevailed in only one of his four meetings against the German Alexander Zverev, who this season won Olympics singles gold and two Masters titles.

But Taylor didn’t back down. He uncorked his power game, played to Sascha’s forehand and adeptly charged the net. After dropping the first set, Taylor fearlessly fought back, unleashed some inspired returns of serve and hit an astounding reflex volley to claim the second set. 

Today the last American in the draw was hoping to become the first American to reach the Indian Wells semis since Jack Sock four years ago.

But his 6’ 6” foe, with his blistering serve, a punishing backhand and plenty of experience was socking it to the local favorite at crunch time. He was up 6-4, 3-6, 5-2. Fritz has a great smile, glorious hair and a big heart, but, as the Tennis Channel noted, “He’s hit a wall at these big events.”

Today Taylor faced Zverev, who is perhaps the best active player to never win a major and is No. 4 in the world for a reason. His backhands astound, his serves are lasers. At 5-3 the prohibitive Indian Wells favorite, who hoped to return to No. 3 in the world and win his third Masters of the season, had a match point. But disaster struck. He double faulted.   

“The ghost is still in that machine,” noted Brett Haber. “It would be such an interesting study of someone’s psyche if we hadn’t been there before.”

At Indian Wells in 2016, young Zverev netted a high volley on match point, allowing Rafa Nadal to charge back. Even more infamous was the wrenching collapse he suffered at the 2020 US Open. After winning the first two sets against Dominic Thiem, he was two points from victory, but faltered.

Today, Zverev knew full well that the top two seeds had already fallen. Daniil Medvedev lost after being up a set and two breaks. Stefanos Tsitsipas laid an egg against Nikoloz Basilashvili.

So did Sascha. He couldn’t convert a second match point. His serve suddenly devolved into a nightmare and he had no answers as Taylor boldly rallied to force a decisive tiebreak. As the California crowd delighted in Fritz bliss, Zverev opened the breaker with an OMG double fault and then shanked a forehand. The pride of San Diego didn’t blink. Taylor raced to a  4-6, 6-3, 7-6 (7-3) victory.

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The gutted German was candid. “Right now I just want to go home. I want to just be at home.”

Fritz was already home, having won the biggest match of his career. “This is the farthest I’ve ever been in a big tournament,” he said. “It’s easily the best win of my life. You can’t practice those situations…It’s my whole life.” 

Of course at crunch time he thought he might blow it. But then he recalled, “I immediately thought…I’m not going to choke. I had the confidence…being aggressive…It’s the biggest positive I’m taking away from this match.” 

“It’s unbelievable,” Taylor gushed. He recalled his thoughts at his moment of victory: “Wow, I did it. The fans going crazy…It’s like a dream come true. It’s tough not to get a little bit emotional because I’ve worked so hard my whole life…It’s paying off…It’s really feeling good – that confidence to go after the ball and trust myself, not play tight, tentative tennis…That’s what makes me a good player…that fearlessness to trust myself in the big moments. It’s really nice to have that feeling back.”

And Americans would love to get an Indian Wells title back. It’s been 20 years since two Americans from these parts – Las Vegan Andre Agassi and LA’s Serena Williams – lifted trophies. “It would be huge for me,” noted Taylor. “And huge for American tennis if I could win.”

There was plenty of Fritz bliss in the air this afternoon, and locals hope Taylor’s ‘Fritz blitz’ powers on.

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