Taylor Fritz enters Citi Open as finest American males’s tennis participant

Remark

Taylor Fritz is coming to the Citi Open throughout probably the most eventful yr of his burgeoning profession.

The Rancho Santa Fe, Calif., native defeated Rafael Nadal in straight units within the Indian Wells ultimate in March to say his first Masters 1000 title. He additionally reached the fourth spherical of the Australian Open and quarterfinals of Wimbledon, falling to Nadal in a fifth-set tiebreaker.

A win and a detailed Grand Slam loss to arguably the best tennis participant ever are ostensibly large outcomes for a 24-year-old American with simply two ATP titles beneath his belt. With Andy Roddick being the final American man to win a Grand Slam in 2003, it has develop into a little bit of a cliche query on the tour: Do you assume having nice younger Americans on the tour will assist develop tennis in the USA?

However when Fritz, the highest-ranked of these younger Americans at No. 13 on this planet, encountered a model of that query throughout his first apply day at Rock Creek Park, he veered away from the usual reply: He simply needs to win.

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“I mean, maybe,” stated Fritz, who opens play Wednesday in opposition to Alexei Popyrin. “But it’s a big deal to me more for the personal goal, for sure. I’ve wanted to be a top 10 player my whole entire life, you know? So I think it’s definitely more personal goals.”

Fritz is conscious of the elevated consideration his success brings to U.S. tennis. In his phrases, American sports activities followers are used to being “the best at everything,” so his quests to interrupt into the highest 10 and win a Grand Slam will, by extension, assist draw Americans into the game, simply because the Williams sisters and different nice Americans have completed on the ladies’s facet for years. His quarterfinal loss to Nadal at Wimbledon was a primary instance.

“So many people that aren’t tennis fans watched that, and they watched an American that they’d probably never heard of play Nadal, who they’ve heard of,” he stated. “That’s the kind of match that’s going to gain a lot of fans in the U.S.”

However regardless of how a lot that match affected the better panorama of American tennis, it didn’t change the truth that Fritz was crushed after he misplaced. Strolling off the court docket on the All England Membership, his eyes weren’t twinkling with American patriotism, nor had been they checking Twitter to see how a lot engagement stay updates of the contest had acquired.

He had simply misplaced a winnable match in opposition to an all-time nice and missed an opportunity at his first profession Grand Slam semifinal.

“If I stop now, I’d be pretty upset with my career,” he stated. “I have a lot of improvements left to make, and I feel like I’m going to become still so much better as a player.”

It’s a part of the explanation Fritz wished to play within the Citi Open regardless of nursing a lingering damage — a stress fracture in his left foot suffered through the French Open that additionally affected him throughout his Wimbledon run. He is aware of that the extra successful tennis he performs, the upper his rating will climb.

Fritz, like his compatriots additionally among the many prime 50, is aware of that successful pulls eyeballs to the game. However viewership and a spotlight isn’t their motive — greatness is. These younger Americans — Fritz, Reilly Opelka, Tommy Paul, Frances Tiafoe and extra — are mates with each other, however when taking part in in opposition to one another, are fiercely aggressive.

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Their mission isn’t to be one of the best American — it’s to be one of the best. To Fritz, “highest-ranked American” appears to be a participation trophy. It was definitely hard-won, however breaking into the highest 10 and successful a Grand Slam are larger prizes, and you may’t simply beat Americans on these paths.

“I don’t feed off of how many [Americans] we have in the top 50 — it’s an individual international sport,” Opelka stated. “I mean, it’s nice having them around just to hang out with … [but] they don’t push me more than [Daniil Medvedev] or [Stefanos Tsitsipas] or one of those guys. It’s the same.”

Whereas Fritz isn’t aiming to be the savior of U.S. tennis, he’s making himself extra accessible. He streams himself taking part in video video games like “Apex Legends” and “Fall Guys” on Twitch to have interaction together with his fan base. He tweeted at “SportsCenter” in 2019, calling out the present for an absence of tennis experience in a bid to offer Americans higher data of the game.

He additionally agreed to be featured in a brand new Netflix collection that follows a yr within the lifetime of the ATP’s and WTA’s highest-profile gamers, much like the smash hit “Formula 1: Drive to Survive,” which helped develop the motorsport’s fan base in the USA and endear drivers to a viewing viewers.

“These cameras are on me all the time. I may come off even as cocky, but it’s in a very joking kind of way,” Fritz stated of the expertise. “And I’ve really held nothing back in front of the camera. I’m trying to just be myself as much as possible.”

However to Fritz, TV cameras, tweets and Twitch streams take a again seat when it’s time to be a tennis participant. All of the American engagement on this planet gained’t push him into the highest 10 or give him a Grand Slam title. Solely his exhausting work and drive can try this.

Fritz’s profession to this point isn’t sufficient for him. He needs to be one of the best, and if American tennis comes together with him, so be it.

“As a kid, I would have thought it was crazy, so it’s really cool when you kind of take a step back and think about it,” Fritz mused. “But I still have so much more that I need to do.”

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