Elliott: Taylor Fritz realizes dream, beats Rafael Nadal for titles in Indian Wells

Taylor Fritz was named Star of Tomorrow by the Men’s Pro Tennis Tour in late 2016, the year he broke the top 100 rankings. He was 19 and was touted as a beacon of hope in the seemingly impossible task of ameliorating the oppressed fortunes of US men’s tennis players.

Tomorrow was more than a few years off for Fritz, who grew up in the San Diego area and lives in Rancho Palos Verdes. The wait was worth it.

He dropped out of the top 100 and got back in, taking two steps forward for every step back. Reaching the semifinals of the pandemic-delayed BNP Paribas Open last October boosted his confidence and allowed him to reach the fourth round of a Grand Slam tournament for the first time at the Australian Open this year. He peaked at a career-high 16th in the rankings last month when his forehand, safe and effective, became a game winner. His confidence grew with his game.

The long-promised tomorrow came on Sunday. Fritz survived the scare of pinching his ankle while warming up for his BNP Paribas Open final against childhood idol Rafael Nadal, beating the bravest and mentally toughest player in the game. At the end of his 6-3, 7-6 (5) win, which ended Nadal’s perfect 20-0 start to the year, Fritz threw himself onto the Indian Wells Tennis Garden court and looked up in disbelief.

This was the tournament he’d played in as a kid, the title his father, former professional player Guy Fritz, had told him he would one day win. At some point it was Sunday.

“This is seriously like a childhood dream come true, like a wild dream that you never expect to actually come true,” Fritz said after becoming the first American to win the championship since Andre Agassi in 2001.

“Doing it against Rafa at the end is like icing on the cake. It’s just crazy. Someone I’ve watched dominate, wins everything. Him and Roger [Federer]. I didn’t watch a lot of tennis growing up but it’s hard not knowing these guys, knowing they literally win everything, their Grand Slam finals, all their fights. It’s crazy to be level with these guys, let alone be able to beat one of them to win a tournament this big. Doing it here in Indian Wells, the combination of all these crazy things that I never thought was possible.”

Taylor Fritz, returning a shot here, overcame a pre-game injury scare to beat Rafael Nadal on Sunday.

Taylor Fritz, returning a shot here, overcame a pre-game injury scare to beat Rafael Nadal on Sunday.

(Marcio Jose Sanchez / Associated Press)

Fritz is expected to be in 13th place when new rankings are released on Monday. “He will have [a] Chance to be very close if not in the top 10 soon, right?” said Nadal, who required treatment for breathing problems he suffered during his three-set semi-final win over Carlos Alcaraz on Saturday but declined to give his exhausted state as an excuse for his loss to Fritz.

“Congratulations to him. That’s the main thing in the end,” said Nadal. “The most important thing in tennis is that there is a winner and a loser. Today he is the winner. He deserves it. He played aggressively, so congratulations.”

However, on Sunday there were moments when Fritz thought the match would not take place.

He pinched his ankle in his semi-final win over Andrey Rublev on Saturday, but thought nothing of it. He expected it to go away overnight, as sometimes happens with tweaks and stresses. But when he went out to warm up for last Sunday and tried to push off with his right foot, he cried out in shocked pain. He tried two more times, each time with the same result.

“Both times like the worst pain imaginable,” he said. “I was really upset, basically I almost cried because I thought I had to retire.”

After about an hour of treatment, during which the painful area was numbed, Fritz began to feel better. He started hitting again and thought he could play. Some members of his entourage discouraged him, fearing he would aggravate the injury. “I apologized to them for being so incredibly stubborn,” said Fritz, who said he is due for an MRI on Monday. “In the end, I’m glad I made that decision.”

Fritz signaled his intention when he conceded his fourth break point in the first game of the opener against Nadal. He earned another break to make it 3-0 and consolidated to 4-0. Nadal later got a break back to cut Fritz’s lead to 5-3, but Fritz shut him out with his second set point.

Nadal, renewed by a visit to the dressing room, went 2-1 at the break in set number two but Fritz broke back for 2-2, escaping four break points to take a 3-2 lead. Fritz failed to capitalize on his first match point when he was 5-4 up, but he eliminated any chance of Nadal coming back by taking control late in the tie-break. The crowd, torn between the local favorite or the legendary Nadal, went wild as Fritz claimed the biggest win of his career.

“I kept trying to talk to myself, like, ‘This is my time. this is my game i will win it That’s it. There’s no reason it can’t be me,'” Fritz said.

He believed his long-promised tomorrow would come, and it did, and it was more glorious than he could have imagined. Elliott: Taylor Fritz realizes dream, beats Rafael Nadal for titles in Indian Wells

Andrew Schnitker

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