After a hugely successful month of March on the U.S. coasts, Taylor Fritz showed that his big game is also a perfect fit for Texas.
On Thursday at the Fayez Sarofim & Co. U.S. Men’s Clay Court Championship, the World No. 13 American made a winning clay-court debut for the season with a 6-1, 6-4 victory over Alejandro Tabilo. Fresh off his maiden ATP Masters 1000 title in Indian Wells and a fourth-round run in Miami, Fritz got up and running on the Houston clay by taking the first four games of the match, then closed it out with his fifth break of the contest.
“I felt like tonight was going to be a really tough match, given he’s done really well on clay,” Fritz said of his Houston opener. “It was my first match [on clay]. I’m pretty happy with how I played. I can’t complain, I got out of that pretty solid.”
— Tennis TV (@TennisTV) April 8, 2022
Chile’s Tabilo, who has played exclusively on clay since February, reached his first ATP Tour final as a qualifier in Cordoba and later advanced to the Santiago semi-finals. He entered Houston following a final run at the ATP Challenger Tour event in Santiago in March.
But Fritz dominated his World No. 100 opponent early, and led by a set and a break before the Tabilo made his charge midway through set two. Down 0-3 in the second set, Tabilo began to settle in, cutting down on his errors to bring the set to 4-4.
The American avoided any late drama by reasserting himself and taking the last two games of the match.
He hit just a few drop shots over the course of the one-hour encounter, but said post-match that he’s working on adding that tactic for the clay swing: “It’s definitely something I need to bring into my game because I back people up so much on the groundstrokes,” he explained, before stating that his goals for the season include breaking into the Top 10 and qualifying for the Nitto ATP Finals.
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Earlier in Houston, a pair of seeded players fought back from a set down to advance. Defending champion Cristian Garin — Fritz’s quarter-final opponent — shook off a slow start to defeat Australia’s Jordan Thompson, 3-6, 6-3, 6-3. Entering the event on a five-match losing streak, the fifth seed has now come from behind in back-to-back matches on the red clay.
Sixth seed Frances Tiafoe went the distance against Uruguay’s Pablo Cuevas to earn a 5-7, 7-5, 7-6(4) victory over the course of two hours, 40 minutes. The American served from the opening set at 5-4, but dropped three straight games as the six-time ATP Tour champion Cuevas took the initiative and began to push him back in the rallies.
Tiafoe again failed to serve out the set at 5-4 in the second, but was able to reclaim his advantage by breaking serve on his fifth chance of a four-deuce game — the longest of the match. There were no break chances in the decider, but the American put his stamp on the do-or-die tie-break by winning four straight points from 2-2. He closed the match out on his third match point.
He will face 2013 Houston champ John Isner in an all-American quarter-final, after the fourth seed beat countryman Steve Johnson, 6-7(1), 7-6(4), 6-3, in Thursday’s evening-session finale. Isner saved a match point at 4-5 in the second set and broke his own tournament record by hitting 38 aces in the two-hour and 20-minute contest, saving one last ace for the final point.
A new tournament ace record ?
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After saving that match point in set two, Isner saw eight break chances come and go in the following game but regrouped to win the tie-break by a single mini-break. He secured the lone service break of the match with a return winner on his 13th break point, then comfortably served out the victory to snap a five-match losing streak against Johnson.
All the action from the Houston ATP 250 event can be seen on ESPN3 in the U.S., with all four quarter-finals set for Friday.