Forty-two seconds. That’s how long it took Taylor Fritz to hold serve and win a game against Nikoloz Basilashvili in the first round of the Australian Open yesterday. His ace total for the match? Thirty-two.
When I first encountered Fritz in real life, five years ago, he was barely 20. I was trying to surreptitiously sneak an iced tea from the lounge while he was exiting the men’s room at T Bar M Racquet Club, where he was competing at the RBC Tennis Championships of Dallas. I’m pretty sure that after I awkwardly cut him off he gracefully pivoted around me with a polite, “Excuse me, ma’am.”
Now the kid is grown up, and his hair, left to more of its natural devices, is even more fabulous. As is his game.
Last March, he defeated Rafael Nadal in the finals at Indian Wells, which he cites as the highlight of his career. “It is my home tournament,” he tells me in a Zoom call from the Australian Open. “It was just a really big deal for me. I don’t think that anything can really beat that feeling that I had in that moment.”
And in October, after beating his good friend Frances Tiafoe in the Tokyo Open final, he made his Top 10 debut at No. 8.
You’ll be able to see both Fritz and Tiafoe at the Dallas Open, which returns to SMU’s Styslinger/Altec Tennis Complex February 4–12. It’s one of only 10 U.S. tournaments on the ATP Tour, and it’s the only indoor championship in the U.S.
When Fritz was younger, he viewed every tournament the same, because they all had the ability to impact his ranking and career. “Now it’s a bit different,” he says. “But having not performed as well as I would’ve liked to last year in Dallas, I think I’m gonna come this year very motivated and ready to play my best tennis.”
Last year, Fritz took out Jack Sock before losing to Marcos Giron in the quarterfinals. Our resident pro, John Isner, made it to the semis, but Reilly Opelka took home the win against Jenson Brooksby in a nail-biter of a double-tiebreak two-setter at the inaugural event.
This year, one of the biggest questions is whether or not Fritz will follow up Tiafoe’s attempted pantsing prank from the United Cup. “One thing that Frances and I do a lot is we just mess with each other a ton,” Fritz says, dismissing rumors of payback. “It’s just normal. You know, it’s a sign that you’re actually really good friends with someone when you can just keep going at it. It’s just what we do.”
Fritz and Tiafoe are two of the many featured players in Netflix’s new tennis-based reality series, Break Point. The first half of the series, which includes some dramatic insights into Fritz’s win at Indian Wells, dropped over the weekend.
Three takeaways: Felix Auger-Aliassime is the only one who knows how to pack, Ons Jabeur’s mom cooks a mean couscous, and Nadal has perfected pre-match alpha dog posturing during the mere seconds players must wait in the hallway before taking to the court.
Also: this may be the best thing to happen to tennis since Serena and Roger retired, giving us insights into a whole new crop of characters to cheer for.
So far, Fritz has avoided what has been dubbed the “Netflix curse.” Of the many featured Break Point players, Nick Kyrgios, Aijla Tomljanovic, and Paula Badosa all pulled out of the Australian Open due to injuries, and Matteo Berettini exited in the first round after losing a five-setter to Andy Murray. Fritz, however, is still in it; he plays Australian Alexei Popyrin tomorrow in the second round.
When I ask Fritz about his plans for 2023, he doesn’t hesitate. “My main goals are, ranking-wise, to make the top five,” he says. “And then tournament-wise, I want to be in the finals of a Slam and play for a title.”
If he achieves that in the next two weeks, maybe he’ll be able to relax in Dallas a little more. If Morgan Riddle lets him, I have a good friend who wants to play some Fortnite.