POWERFUL SINNER TOPPLES THE KING OF INDIAN WELLS: They say, “Hate the sin, not the sinner.”
Sure, only the most rabid of Taylor Fritz fans would claim it would be a sin to derail the Southern Californian’s quest to defend his 2022 Indian Wells title. But it’s hard to hate Jannik Sinner. The languid power baseliner was the first Italian to reach the Indian Wells quarters in the 47-year history of the tournament.
The 21-year-old ex-skier now has Darren Cahill as a coach. His savvy advisor has helped him improve his serve and adapt new tactical approaches – when to go for it, when not to. Most of all, Cahill’s advice is to be proud and have fun.
And Sinner did what every player wants to do. He confidently broke serve in the very first game, and that allowed him to win the first set against Fritz 6-4 in their quarters matchup.
But Fritz is a considerable warrior with plenty of weapons. There’s a reason he beat Rafa Nadal last year to claim the BNP Paribas title. It’s no accident that he’s the first American man since Andy Roddick in 2009 to break into the top five. And he loves playing on his home court.
He came into today’s quarterfinal with a 17-1 record at Indian Wells over the last 17 months. Plus he knows how to fight from behind. In his first match here this year, he roared back, after losing the first set, to subdue Ben Shelton.
And in the second set against Sinner, Fritz stepped up his aggression. The power rallies impressed. “Sinner came out of the blocks like Usain Bolt – and now there are lightning bolts after lightning bolts,” noted Jason Goodall. Jim Courier added, “I’m just in awe of this demolition derby.” Fritz broke late in the second set to even the match 4-6, 6-4.
Now, the wicked desert wind imposed itself on the match. With the wind at their backs, Sinner and Fritz broke each other.
In the end it was the blessed Italian Sinner who was hitting a bit deeper, who had a more creative game and who dominated the long rallies. Fritz, who dearly wished to defend his crown, saved three break points in the third game. But Jannik ultimately controlled the baseline, broke late in the third set, and, when a Fritz return of serve drifted long, Sinner booked his ticket into his first ever Masters 1000 semi, 6-4, 4-6, 6-4. Sinner will face Carlos Alcaraz in the semis, who for the first time in five attempts, beat Felix Auger-Aliassime.
After the match, Taylor, who knew he would no longer sport the Indian Wells crown, seemed down. But he gamely put things in perspective: “I feel I didn’t perform bad…[and] quarterfinals is a decent result. I hate losing in quarterfinals and semifinals probably more than I hate losing in the first and second round of tournaments. But it happens. Just gotta move on…[and] keep it going in Miami, because what really matters is the race – and how I’m going to finish this year.”
Fritz added, “The one thing I’ve done really well the last year and a half is that I’m four for five on winning the tournament when I make it to the semifinals…If I didn’t win those matches, I don’t think I would even break into the top 15.”
THE LAST AMERICANS: Semifinalist Frances Tiafoe, who faces Daniil Medvedev Saturday, is the last American singles player remaining in Indian Wells. Defending champs John Isner and Jack Sock are into the doubles semis Friday.
THE LANGUAGE OF THE GAME: In her press conference the other day, Iga Swiatek, the very articulate 21-year-old Pole, stumbled on the tough word “optimization” and was embarrassed. “How insane,” I thought. “I can barely pronounce that word – and how many Americans know a single word of Polish?”
Tennis is an international game. At Indian Wells, with players from over 40 countries, you hear an intriguing mix of accents. Roger Federer was famous for doing interviews in three languages: English, French and Swiss-German. Maria Sharpaova once said she switches back between Russian and English when she’s thinking.
Monte Carlo resident Daniil Medvedev is fluent in his native Russian and in French and English. He told Inside Tennis the three languages “are completely different.” He admitted Russian is a very tough language to learn, “but I was born with it. For me, it’s easy. I learned English when I was young. It’s the most important language in the world, because right now in almost all the countries, all the young people speak English. It’s the way to communicate with each other in the modern era. So I’m really happy that I can express myself well. I rarely get lost.”
Novak Djokovic, incredibly, is fluent in Serbian, English and Italian, does just fine in French, German and Spanish, and has always said he wants to learn Mandarin. Federer is also a linguistic master. His parents specifically gave him the name Roger because it was so well understood in English. When Federer left home at 14 to go to an academy near Lake Geneva, he had to learn French. He would later say that he loves the expressiveness of French, and Federer watchers loved to detail his expressiveness and comfort in different languages.
Medvedev had an experience similar to Roger’s. “I didn’t know any words in French until I was 17. I knew I’d be moving to France so I started to learn…I had a really low base but maybe could understand what the topic was. That helped me to learn…but it’s a very tricky language, very tough. In Russian and English, even more, we literally pronounce everything that’s written on the paper. In French, half of the letters aren’t pronounced.
“Right now, sometimes I don’t even know which language I think in. I probably dream in Russian. Same on court – when I get angry, sometimes I can speak French, sometimes English, sometimes Russian. I have no idea how to decide which one.”
APPRECIATE THE BEAUTY: Stefanos Tsitsipas tweeted, “Slow down and take a moment to appreciate the beauty around you. In a world that’s constantly moving at lightning speed, embracing slowness is a superpower. It allows us to fully experience the present moment and find joy in the little things.”
THE IGA EXPRESS ROLLS ON: The Swiatek express rolled on today with considerable certainty and confidence. Despite a group of raucous Romanian fans, The No. 1 player in the world crafted yet another confident, imposing win as she downed Sorana Cirstea 6-2, 6-3. Iga hasn’t dropped a set all tournament and she is aiming to be the first woman since Martina Navratilova to ever defend the Indian Wells title. She will next take on the reigning Wimbledon champion, Elena Rybakina, in the semis.
APPRECIATING IGA: The other night Iga Swiatek gave one of the most thoughtful, nuanced and wide-ranging press room commentaries we’ve heard in years. She spoke about the pressure on Ukrainian players, the fear they have while playing the circuit and the responsibility of top players to speak out. Iga said the Ukrainian players were appreciative, but “they didn’t need to thank me, because honestly I’m just saying what I feel…It’s the right thing to support them.”
SONS AND DAUGHTERS OF LEGENDS: Junior tennis made its debut at the BNP Paribas Open with the FILA International Junior Championships, featuring the ITF’s top players from the US and Canada. One of the more prominent names was Jagger Leach, the son of three-time major champion Lindsay Davenport and former USC All-American Jon Leach. Fifteen-year-old Leach is tied for the most ITF junior singles titles this year with three – all were won at events in New Zealand. He has an 18-1 record this year.
Leach is just one of the latest of tennis’ offspring who are thriving. Brandon Holt, who qualified for the last two Slams, is the son of Tracy Austin. No. 26 Seb Korda’s father is former Aussie Open champ Petr Korda. Taylor Fritz’s mom Kathy May was a Top 10 player and Ben Shelton’s dad Bryan was ranked No. 55 on the ATP Tour. WTA player Elizabeth Mandlik is the daughter of three-time Slam champ Hana Mandlikova.
Teens Leo Borg and Martin Damm are the sons of Bjorn Borg and Martin Damm, Sr. Former Olympic gold medalist Mary Jo Fernandez’s son Nicholas Godsick was a top 15 junior, and is an incoming freshman at Stanford. Michael Chang and Amber Liu’s daughter, Lani Chang, is among the top-ranked 14-year-olds in the world, and Patrick McEnroe’s daughter Victoria won the New York State Championships last fall. The mothers of Greek stars Stefanos Tsitsiapas and Maria Sakkari were also fine players.
KRAMER CLUB KID: Jack Kramer Club director Peter Smith’s 15-year-old prodigy, Iva Jovic, is the top seed in singles and No. 2 in doubles in the FILA junior tourney, and has moved into the quarters in singles and the semis in doubles.
YOUNGSTERS ON THE RISE: All eight BNP Paribas Open men’s quarter finalists are all under the age of 28, for the first time since 2006.
Also reporting Steve Pratt and Vinay Venkatesh