Taylor Fritz often visited the Indian Wells Tennis Garden as a kid, with his family making the two-hour drive from their home in Rancho Santa Fe to watch the tournament action. On one of those trips, his father — Guy Fritz, a former professional player and current coach — told him he would win the desert title one day.
The 24-year-old proved him right with a 6-3, 7-6(5) win over Rafael Nadal on Sunday, though reality is still setting in.
“After the match I kept saying, ‘No way, no way.’ I can’t believe it’s real,” the American told the press after claiming the trophy. “I signed the camera, I just put question marks. Stunned. Couldn’t even believe it.
“This is seriously like a childhood dream come true, like a wild dream you never expect to actually happen. It really hasn’t even sunk in.”
But the dream nearly turned into a nightmare, as Fritz was on the verge of pulling out of the match with an ankle problem following a tweak late in his semi-final victory against Andrey Rublev. Fritz felt “the worst pain imaginable” as he attempted to push off during his warmup.
“I was really upset,” he said, “basically almost crying because I thought I was going to have to pull out.”
After an hour of work with an on-site doctor, Fritz went back out for another practice session and ultimately decided — against the wishes of his team, including coaches Michael Russell and Paul Annacone, and fitness trainer Wolfgang Oswald — to give it a shot.
“It was a game-time decision,” he explained. “A lot of members of my team wanted me to not play the match. I’m never going to let them forget that because I went on the court and it was a complete non-issue, didn’t feel it at all, didn’t hinder me at all.”
He later explained his thought process just before the match: “The way it feels right now, I’d be thinking about it for a long time if I don’t at least go out and try to play. That’s what I told them. They said they don’t agree but they’ll back my decision. I apologised to them for being so incredibly stubborn.”
It’s not the first time Fritz has made a seemingly miraculous injury comeback. After leaving the court on a wheelchair at Roland Garros in 2021, Fritz underwent surgery for a torn meniscus. Less than a month later, he reached the third round at Wimbledon before losing a five-setter to Alexander Zverev.
Not long after contemplating what he would say to the Indian Wells crowd if he pulled out, Fritz instead addressed his home fans as their champion.
Not only did Fritz pick up his first ATP Masters 1000 title, he also got his first win in nine tries against the ‘Big Three’ (he has not played Andy Murray) and leveled his ATP Head2Head record to 1-1 against Nadal. Fritz called beating the Spaniard the “icing on the cake,” recalling watching Nadal and Federer dominate as a kid.
He will rise to No. 13 in the ATP Rankings with the result, reclaiming the title of No. 1 American from Reilly Opelka. But his goals for the season remain the same.
“I don’t want to get ahead of myself. I want to take things one step at a time,” he explained. “My goal for the last couple months has been Top 10. This obviously helps a lot to put me closer to that goal. That’s going to remain the goal for now, Top 10.
“Obviously I’d love to go way higher than that and achieve way more than that… It’s just one tournament. [I still need to] go back to work, never be satisfied with the good results. Just keep wanting more.”
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Fritz attributed his title run to three key factors: his forehand, his serve and his success on the big points. He was 4-0 in tie-breaks in his six-match run, including consecutive third-set tie-breaks over Jaume Munar and Alex de Minaur.
After a breakthrough run to the Indian Wells semi-finals in October, Fritz has gone from strength to strength with a newfound confidence in his game. He is now 26-8 since October, including a 10-1 mark in the desert.
“Since the last edition of this tournament, it’s been the forehand that’s really been clicking for me. Just being able to unload and trust it. It used to be a shot that would just misfire, almost lose me matches. Now it’s like I can trust it no matter what to really pull the trigger on a big point, get extra free points.”
Fritz is hopeful that his ankle will allow him to play in Miami next week, with a Monday MRI set to reveal the extent of the injury. If it’s up to him, he’ll be out there chasing a second ATP Masters 1000 title in the Florida sunshine.
“It’s obviously questionable right now,” he said. “I feel bad for [my team], I’m so stubborn.”