SAN DIEGO — With the American tennis star Taylor Fritz stuck in his hotel room in Seoul last month with Covid-19 and a high fever, his longtime goal of breaking into the ATP top 10 seemed just out of reach again.
But that was before Fritz hopped on a stationary bike to remain in shape after which hopped on a flight from Seoul to Tokyo last Wednesday after a compulsory week in isolation, just in time for his next tournament. 4 days later, he won the Japan Open, defeating his compatriot Frances Tiafoe in the ultimate. Welcome to the highest 10 finally, because the ATP rankings made clear on Monday with Fritz at No. 8.
“It’s definitely considered one of those goals you could have your whole life,” Fritz said after arriving back in Los Angeles. “It’s not the top goal by any means, and I don’t have the desire to make people think that because I’m celebrating it, nevertheless it’s an enormous milestone and nobody is ever going to take that away from me.”
It also makes him the second top-10 player in his tennis family. Fritz’s mother, Kathy May, joined that club in 1977 on the WTA Tour. Fritz’s father, Guy, peaked at No. 301 within the ATP singles rankings in 1979. “I do think it will be cool to be highest ranked within the family,” Fritz said.
Fritz’s breakthrough is the newest sign of resurgence for American men’s tennis. These will not be yet the great old days, not even close. Americans often dominated the tour within the late twentieth century with serial champions comparable to John McEnroe, Pete Sampras and Andre Agassi. Andy Roddick, who won the U.S. Open in 2003, stays the last American man to win a serious singles title or reach No. 1.
But it surely can be churlish to not acknowledge the progress in 2022 with Tiafoe making a stirring run to the semifinals of the U.S. Open last month and the big-serving Fritz winning three titles and putting together his finest season with the cameras often rolling behind the scenes. (He’s considered one of the players being followed for a “Drive to Survive” style series on Netflix.) He’s the primary American man in the highest 10 since John Isner in June 2019 and the primary American man to make his top-10 debut since Jack Sock in November 2017.
Each Fritz and the Seventeenth-ranked Tiafoe are 24 years old, which given the increased endurance of men’s tennis players almost certainly implies that their best years are ahead of them. The Fritz-Tiafoe duel in Tokyo, an ATP 500 event, was the fifth all-American men’s singles final on tour this season. Of the seven other American men ranked in the highest 50, six are age 25 or younger: Tommy Paul, Maxime Cressy, Reilly Opelka, Jenson Brooksby, Brandon Nakashima and Sebastian Korda.
“Everyone’s just been always improving during the last couple years, and now it’s finally at the purpose where among the big guys are dropping out or are a little bit more beatable than they was,” Fritz said. “Numerous the people at the highest immediately and having a lot of success are people we played growing up and everyone knows we will beat. I see no reason why there’s not going to be 4 or five Americans in the highest 20 in two years.”
The caveat is that Carlos Alcaraz, the beguiling recent men’s No. 1, is even younger than the leaders of the brand new American wave. Alcaraz, a 19-year-old Spaniard, beat Tiafoe in five sets on his strategy to winning the U.S. Open. Jannik Sinner, a devastating ball striker from Italy who’s widely and rightly considered the following best young talent on the planet, is 21.
The American renaissance will clearly proceed to face loads of resistance, including a still-formidable Novak Djokovic. But that isn’t any reason for Fritz to not savor Monday’s math. “I believe no matter what happens the following 10 years of my profession, it will all the time probably be considered one of my biggest profession achievements,” he said.
Fritz, known since his junior days as a tenacious competitor, has made a habit of rebounding quickly. In 2021, lower than a month after right knee surgery, he won two rounds at Wimbledon. This 12 months, he won the largest title of his profession on the BNP Paribas Open after injuring his ankle in the ultimate stages of the semifinal and screaming in pain through the warm-up session before his final against Rafael Nadal, who was coping with a cracked rib.
This time, Fritz needed to bounce back twice. He lost in the primary round of the U.S. Open to the American qualifier Brandon Holt, who had never won a main-draw singles match on tour.
“Latest York was learning experience,” Michael Russell, considered one of Fritz’s coaches, said. “He put way an excessive amount of pressure on himself to perform at his home Slam in addition to with the ability to manage all the off-court obligations with being the top-ranked American there.”
Fritz said it was bittersweet to follow the progress of Tiafoe, whom he has known since they were 14.
“Obviously, I used to be joyful for my friend; I believe Frances deserved it,” Fritz said. “Through the years, he’s lost so many tight matches with top players that it was finally time for him to begin winning those and go on a run, but at the identical time I’m watching it, and it killed me. I felt like I must be there, too. I felt like my draw was good. I just had a shocking day.”
Fritz quickly returned for team competition in Europe last month: helping the U.S. qualify for the Davis Cup final phase after which helping Team World defeat Team Europe for the primary time within the Laver Cup, the event cocreated by Roger Federer that also served as his emotional retirement vehicle. In Federer’s last official match, he and his doubles partner, Nadal, were beaten by Sock and Tiafoe. Fritz said he was indignant that his teammates received a lot criticism on social media for enjoying at full throttle.
“I definitely cried lots greater than I believed I used to be going to,” he said of Federer’s farewell. “But I used to be pretty upset to see how much hate Frances and Jack got for winning the match and Frances got for hitting Roger or hitting the ball at Rafa at net. This shouldn’t be an exhibition. We’re playing for lots and for plenty of money. It bothered me lots because I do know Roger would have absolutely hated it if they simply gave it to him.”
Team World celebrated late into the night in London, and Fritz then caught a 12-hour flight to Seoul, only to check positive for Covid-19 the day after arrival, which kept him out of the Seoul tournament and left him with a spiking fever and sore throat despite being double vaccinated and boosted.
Fritz was eventually capable of start figuring out in his hotel room in Seoul: pedaling on a stationary bike and even bench pressing his girlfriend, Morgan Riddle, who had also tested positive for Covid, as she stretched out on her side in a bathrobe to show herself into the equivalent of a barbell.
Fritz soon returned to more conventional training methods and the tennis court in Tokyo: winning in three sets in the primary round over James Duckworth after going per week without hitting a ball. Fritz then guaranteed his top-10 spot by beating Denis Shapovalov in one other three-setter within the semifinals before defeating Tiafoe, 7-6 (3), 7-6 (2).
“Taylor was putting plenty of pressure on himself to recover from that top 10 hurdle the last couple months,” Russell said. “Beating Shapo within the semis really freed up his mind for the ultimate to play a few of his best tennis.”
Next goals: qualifying for the eight-man ATP Finals in Turin, Italy, next month after which cracking the highest five and making “a giant run” in a Grand Slam tournament in 2023. Whatever happens from here, he already has story to inform. “The very fact I spent seven days in a hotel room and was capable of fly the morning of the tournament and win a 500 is pretty crazy,” he said.