By Arthur Kapetanakis
Fresh off his first career ATP title and a career-high ranking of No. 30, Taylor Fritz enters the BB&T Atlanta Open as the No. 2 seed. The 21-year-old earned a first-round bye at the summer’s first US Open Series event and has his sights set on securing a seed at the US Open with a strong summer on the North American hard courts.
It’s not the first time Fritz has rocketed up the rankings. A former world junior No. 1 and the 2015 US Open boys’ singles champion, he flirted with the Top 50 in 2016 before a knee injury halted his progress. Later that year, he got married at age 18 before becoming a father in 2017. With his star on the rise again, the California native is determined to continue the trend.
In addition to Atlanta, Fritz is also scheduled to play both the Rogers Cup and Cincinnati Masters during this year’s US Open Series. He will also make a stop in Mexico to play in the Los Cabos Open.
As he prepares to step back onto the American hard courts, Fritz spoke to USOpenSeries.com about his recent success, future goals and more.
USOpenSeries.com: Going back to Eastbourne, where you won your first ATP title last month, you said the key to that result was playing the big points well in the tournament. You also mentioned the importance of getting to net more and having a more consistent serve. Are those the key factors, not just in that event, but in your game in general and your recent rise up the rankings?
Taylor Fritz: Yeah, I think definitely being good under pressure, winning the big points, that’s always been the key to my game, to winning matches and playing well. That’s a big part, and a big part in tennis in general, just winning the big points at the right time.
USOpenSeries.com: Are there any other particular changes or improvements that have helped you get to this new career high?
Taylor Fritz: I’d say improving my second serve made a big difference. I’ve been serving my second serve a lot bigger, almost like a first serve. I practice it a lot. So I’m not double faulting. I consistently serve a lot faster, and I think that’s been helping a lot.
USOpenSeries.com: You made the final in Memphis in 2016 at the age of 18 in your third career ATP tournament, and you’ve spoken about how that left you hungry to finish the job and win your first title. Now that you’ve accomplished that, do you have a new short-term goal in mind, besides winning a second one?
Taylor Fritz: Yeah, I definitely want to make the second week of a Slam, which is something I feel like I can definitely do. I’d like to make quarterfinals, but I’ve never made the second week, so first I want to make the Round of 16. And then I’d like to try and finish this year in the Top 20.
USOpenSeries.com: After playing in Europe for the past few months, how much are you looking forward to getting to play back in the U.S., in front of your home fans during the US Open Series?
Taylor Fritz: It’s really good to be back playing this swing in the U.S., where I’ve always done well. I did well on the clay and the grass, and typically that’s the time of the year where I don’t pick up that many points. So I’m excited coming into this part of the season, where I usually play good tennis and do really well, and I’m looking for a lot of good results.
USOpenSeries.com: You’re now the No. 2 American man, behind John Isner. What does that mean to you, and how important is the title of No. 1 American to you?
Taylor Fritz: It’s really cool being the No. 2 American, especially being 21 years old, being young. I think it’s really cool. And it’s always been a dream of mine to be the No. 1 American. I think it would be so cool if I was able to accomplish that sometime sooner. It’s something that I always dreamed about.
USOpenSeries.com: You’ve had a run up the rankings like this before, in 2016, when you got to just outside the Top 50 before falling back out of the Top 100. Since then, you got married, had a son, and got some more experience on tour. How is this time around different?
Taylor Fritz: I’m not injured this time. I dropped out last time just because I got injured. I got injured a couple months before I got married. I just had a really bad knee, and I kept playing. I made the mistake of continually playing on it, instead of just taking the time to get better. I was having such a good year, such a good rise up to 50, that I just didn’t want to stop. I wanted to keep going, even though I was injured.
And so I didn’t win a match for a while, and then I did about eight weeks of rehab during the offseason and into the beginning of 2017… I missed the first couple weeks of 2017, and then I spent a lot of 2017 trying to find my game back. When people take a lot of time off and come back from injury, it’s never really instant that they come back to playing the way they were before. I started kind of finding it towards the end of 2017, and then once 2018 started, I felt like I was back to my old self.
The injury really just set me back a year. I felt like 2017 was just a year that shouldn’t have happened, and 2018 should have really been the continuation to my year in 2016. And now I’m continuing to build off of that last year and continuing to build off the form this year and just stay healthy.
USOpenSeries.com: Aside from the injury, now that you are a husband and a father and you have some more ATP experience under your belt, how has your perspective changed from those early days?
Taylor Fritz: I really strive to keep my approach to tennis the same because I want to be as good as I can possibly be as a tennis player. I know for a fact, guys like Roger and Novak and other players that have kids… I know for sure they don’t practice any less or train any less. I’ve just been trying to manage my time better and spend as much time as I can with my son. That gives me a lot to do when I’m off the court and encourages me to work even harder when I’m on the court and at tournaments, so I’ve just been trying to use my time better but still working as hard as ever.
USOpenSeries.com: You’re currently ranked No. 32, which is a very important number in terms of potentially being seeded at the US Open. How much of a goal is it for you to be seeded in New York, and what do you make of your opportunity to make that happen with a good US Open Series?
Taylor Fritz: After the clay season, I think I was ranked about 40-ish. And I knew I had no points in the grass season pretty much, no points the whole US Open Series because I was injured last year. So I figured I don’t have to accumulate too many points to get my ranking up to 32. So it was something I more so thought I should be seeded for the US Open. It would be pretty bad if I wasn’t able to get a seed, just because I have no points to defend. I could only gain points really.
Being No. 32 now, I don’t have many points to defend for the next four weeks, so just a couple good results, and it should be locked up. It would be huge for me because then I can play two matches without having to worry about playing any of the big top seeds, kind of play myself into the tournament and go from there.