The search for the next great American male star in tennis might finally be over. After Sam Querrey, Donald Young, Ryan Harrison, John Isner, etc., have failed to reach elite status, the next wave of teens might prove to be far superior.
Already the last three junior Grand Slam titles have gone to three American boys. Tommy Paul won the French Open juniors, 6-foot-11 giant Riley Opelka took Wimbledon and Taylor Fritz recently won the US Open avenging his loss to Paul in the French final.
The trio are not just tennis talents, they are friends.
— Reilly Opelka (@ReillyOpelka) October 5, 2015
“It’s great because we all push each other,” Fritz said in June about his relationship with the others. “We all get better because of each other. I’m so happy to be a part of it, because it’s going to help me reach my highest potential.”
But Fritz, the world No. 1 junior, is starting the separate himself from the pack. Since his US Open win he parlayed his success in the juniors into the Challenger circuit catching fire this month. Two weeks ago he stormed to the Sacremento crown beating Dustin Brown among others en route. Then Sunday, he won in Fairfield without dropping a set with victories over Blaz Kavcic, Blaz Rola, Tim Smyczek and Brown again in the final.
“It’s been a really good two weeks and it’s a really big accomplishment, but I need to stay humble,” Fritz told ATPWorldtour.com. “I’m only No. 240 now and I need to keep my head down and keep working hard. Hopefully I can keep it going.”
It wasn’t quite to the level of Novak Djokovic, but for being just 17 winning two Challenger titles consecutively is very impressive and a rare accomplishment. According to the ATP, Fritz joined a list that includes Djokovic, Rafael Nadal, Juan Martin del Potro, Tomas Berdych, Bernard Tomic and Richard Gasquet as those who have won multiple Challenger titles while under the age of 18.
And his ranking jumped from No. 694 to No. 232.
“I’d much rather be doing this than going to high school like a regular 17‑year‑old,” Fritz said last month after winning the US Open. “It’s just a lot of fun to play in all these big tournaments. It’s fun to support my home team and get the experience against a lot of accomplished professionals.”
If you haven’t’ seen him, Fritz is 6-foot-4 and his game packs a powerful punch. His serve can reach close to 140mph and his forehand is vicious.
But the biggest strides he’s made have been in his fitness.
“Even in juniors, I’ve never played two tournaments without getting tired or fatigued,” Fritz admitted after his recent success. “I just went back to back at the Challenger level, which is more draining on the body when you’re playing this type of players. It proved to me that my physical level is getting a lot better and the confidence I have from winning all these matches is helping me a lot knowing that I should be here. It’s reassuring because I had a tough decision to make between turning pro and going to college.”
This week, Fritz, who has now won 16 straight matches at all levels, is playing the Las Vegas Challenger, hoping to keep his run going against a draw featuring Brown, Harrison, Smyzek and others.
“I’m going to play a lot more tournaments,” Fritz said. “The plan was to take two months to train, but I think I’m going to bring the offseason down to one month. I thought I needed to train to have these results, but I put two really hard weeks in before Sacramento and that’s all it took to start playing like this. Once you get the results, you have to capitalize on it.”
Fritz comes from a tennis background in Rancho Sante Fe in San Diego, California, idolizing Pete Sampras. His mom, Kathy May, once played on the WTA tour reaching the Top 10, making three Grand Slam quarterfinals and winning seven titles.
Kathy May was once married to former ATP star Brian Teacher before tying the knot with Guy Fritz, a tennis coach, with whom she had three children including Taylor. Her family comes from the billion dollar May Company department stores.
“All these things on the court my dad has drilled into my head since I was a little kid,” Fritz said of his upbringing. “Usually when I miss a ball I know what I’m doing wrong because I’ve heard it a million times. They’ve helped me so much with scheduling and decision making along the way because they’ve been there. They have also taught me to have fun with it because there are no expectations and pressure.”
With Fritz, Opelka, Paul and other players like Michael Mmoh, Frances Tiafoe, Jared Donaldson and the elder Jack Sock in the mix, the future looks very promising for American tennis.
“I think people should be really excited,” Fritz said. “I think a couple of us are going to do really well. But at the same time, there shouldn’t be too much pressure put on us, because that’s never a good thing. But I do think we are all going to become good players. We might have a next American player that’s way up there.”
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