In 2023, can Taylor Fritz crack the top five men’s tennis rankings?

Taylor Fritz set two ambitious objectives for 2022: finish the year in the top 10 in the men’s tennis world rankings, and win a big event.

Done and done, with a couple of added flourishes.

Fritz, who grew up in Rancho Santa Fe and now lives in Miami, started the year at No. 23 but finished No. 9 and is the top-ranked American man. In March, he won his first Masters 1000 tournament — just below the four Grand Slams in significance — by ending a hobbled Rafael Nadal’s 20-match winning streak at the BNP Paribas Open at Indian Wells, even though an injured ankle nearly forced Fritz to withdraw before the final.

Fritz, 25, also made his deepest push in a Slam by reaching the quarterfinals at Wimbledon, where he lost to Nadal in five sets. Fritz won titles on grass at Eastbourne, England, on hardcourts at Tokyo, and qualified for the Assn. of Tennis Professionals year-end event, reaching the semifinals. Most recently, he earned a Davis Cup win over Lorenzo Musetti in November, defeated former world No. 1 Daniil Medvedev in a strong field at the Diriyah Cup in an exhibition in Saudi Arabia earlier this month, and played another exhibition in Hong Kong.

“I would say this year worked great for me. I hit all the goals that I set out to achieve,” Fritz said while visiting southern California to train in Carson. “I can be greedy and say I wanted it to be even better, but I really can’t complain with achieving a lot of the things I set out to do this year.”

Progress has sometimes come slowly for Fritz, who has long been considered a member of the “next generation” that on some distant day will succeed Nadal, Novak Djokovic, and Roger Federer as the sport’s kings.

Federer has retired but Nadal, with a men’s-record 22 Slam singles titles, and Djokovic, with 21, aren’t conceding center stage or center court. Spain’s Carlos Alcaraz, 19, jumped the succession line to win the U.S. Open and become No. 1, the youngest man to earn that distinction since rankings began in 1973. Third-ranked Casper Ruud (23), No. 4 Stefanos Tsitsipas (24), and No. 6 Felix Auger-Aliassime (22) also are younger than Fritz, but there’s room for him up there, too.

“I’ve always felt very strongly that he’s a top-10 player, so I’m not shocked at all. I guess I would say I was a little bit surprised with all the adversity that he’s dealt with this year that he was able to do it this year,” Paul Annacone, who coaches Fritz along with Michael Russell, said of the ankle injury and stress fracture that slowed Fritz and disrupted his training.

“To me, the biggest thing is that now his average level is much better, and I think people don’t understand that. A lot of players, that’s where they struggle. They strive to play perfect tennis. And although Taylor is a perfectionist, what he’s learned to do is accept that he’s not going to be perfect every day and no matter what’s there, he will not relent in terms of trying to problem-solve and trying to compete his way into positions where he can be successful. That’s what he’s done this year.”

Taylor Fritz returns the ball to Novak Djokovic during their singles semifinal match of the ATP World Tour Finals, at the Pala Alpitour in Turin, Italy, on Nov. 19.

(Antonio Calanni / Associated Press)

Fritz’s eventful year also included being followed by cameras to be featured in the Netflix series “Break Point,” which will launch five episodes Jan. 13 and five more in June.

“I’m looking forward to seeing how the story is told on my win at Indian Wells, but I am a little nervous about watching myself on TV, so we’ll see,” he said.

He also joined fellow tennis players Venus Williams and Frances Tiafoe to partner with online therapy platform in offering up to $3 million in free mental health therapy to those who need it.

Mental health is a timely issue, given the struggles that overwhelmed superstar gymnast Simone Biles at the 2020 Olympics and the depression and anxiety that have derailed the career of former women’s No. 1 Naomi Osaka.

“It’s just a great initiative to help people, and I do believe there’s very much a stigma around seeking help for your problems,” Fritz said. “People should just be more comfortable with getting help, and BetterHelp makes it as easy as possible.”

Fritz acknowledged that his mental health and happiness are tied to how well he’s playing, which isn’t ideal. He has learned that getting away from tennis relaxes him mentally and refreshes him physically when he returns to the court.

“I think I’ve become a lot more self-aware of what I need to do to mentally be feeling good and to be able to perform well,” he said. “I think competing with pressure, dealing with pressure, is something that all athletes deal with. Maybe people don’t want to always speak out about it, because I guess everyone deals with it differently. And it is something we should speak about openly.

“I also think what we do is very stressful. There’s a ton of pressure. And that is truly part of our job, so we do have to do the best we can with our mental health and manage it as best as possible.”

That pressure will rise, because his success has created heightened expectations for his future. He will begin his 2023 season by playing in the mixed-gender, team-format United Cup starting Dec. 29 in Australia, and he plans to stay there to train for the Australian Open, the year’s first Slam.

Annacone said 2023 will be fun for Fritz, though it might not always be easy. “One of the biggest challenges for any young player who’s trying to go from very good to great is to back up their first year like this,” said Annacone, who also does commentary for Tennis Channel. “This year, to me, is going to be, I think, his biggest challenge.”

Fritz isn’t intimidated. “I want to be top five in the world and I want to have a big, deep run at a Grand Slam, maybe make a Grand Slam final. Win, obviously, but make a final,” he said. “Start there. And I just want to keep playing the tennis I’ve been playing and not put too much pressure on myself. And I’d like to stay healthy, as well.”

Injuries are beyond his control. The rest is ambitious, but possible. It’s his serve, his opportunity to seize.

Related Articles

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Back to top button