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INTERVIEW: Taylor Fritz has defeated two Top 10 players at a tournament for the first time

Taylor Fritz likely hit more than a hundred excellent, attacking, precisely-placed forehands in his 4-6, 6-3, 7-6 (3) win over Alexander Zverev in Indian Wells on Friday. But his more important swing from that side was nothing like that. It was pure desperation.

The forehand in question came with Fritz serving at 2-5 in the third set, down match point. At that moment everything was unraveling for the American. He was down a break, the momentum he had built in the second set had vanished, and Zverev was looking invincible on his serve. Plus, Fritz had just given away a 30-0 lead with two forehand errors and a missed volley. Once again, it seemed as if Fritz, after recording two big wins this week over Matteo Berrettini and Jannik Sinner, had run into the Zverev wall, the way he had at Wimbledon twice before. Once again, after playing the German well, it looked as if Fritz would come away with nothing to show for it.

It still looked that way as the rally at match point unfolded. Fritz pushed Zverev across the baseline with powerful ground strokes, but Zverev seemed to have found an escape hatch when he looped a ball crosscourt that landed near the baseline. Fritz, caught in no-man’s land, reached back and short-hopped a forehand down the line—it was basically a reaction shot. Zverev, perhaps surprised to see ball coming back, sliced his next backhand into the net. It was all the opening Fritz would need.

“I was really down and out,” Fritz said, “but I kind of found a way to put myself into it. I really wanted to make him have to close me out. I was able to get back into the match.”

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“It just feels really great to play well with the pressure on, and get through,” said Fritz, the southern California native who is searing hot in the desert.

“It just feels really great to play well with the pressure on, and get through,” said Fritz, the southern California native who is searing hot in the desert.

Fritz must have known that, for all of Zverev’s prowess on his serve this season, there was still a chance it could break down under pressure. “The ghost,” as Tennis Channel commentator Jim Courier put it when he talked about Zverev’s service mechanics, “is still in the machine.” It was, and it reappeared when Zverev stepped up to serve for the match. After hardly double faulting all day, he threw one in at 30-15, and another when he reached match point. From there, the ghost proceeded to spread out and haunt the rest of Zverev’s game. At deuce, he hit a backhand five feet wide at deuce; down break point, he almost swung and missed at a forehand.

Watching Zverev crumble before his eyes gave Fritz a jolt of confidence. He had been the aggressor for most of this match. Now, as it reached a deciding tiebreaker, he had a chance to make his good play off against his semi-nemesis.

“Normally I’d be pretty nervous in those situations, that third-set tiebreaker,” Fritz said. “But I felt so confident going after my shots.”

Go after them he did. Fritz went up 2-0 with a forehand-backhand combination, went up 3-0 with a volley winner, went up 4-0 with another big forehand, went up 5-1 with a forehand winner, went up 6-1 with a service winner, and closed the match by tearing into a midcourt forehand, and watching Zverev’s response sail long.

“It just feels really great to play well with the pressure on, and get through,” said the 39th-ranked Fritz, who is into his first Masters 1000 semifinal, at his de facto home event.

Fritz had been looking for a signature win for the better part of two years; this week he has had two, first over Berrettini, and now another, more important one over Zverev. He did it, as Fritz’s mentor Paul Annacone likes to say, on his terms. He hit more aces than Zverev (10 to 9) and more winners (36 to 24), and he was 16 of 22 at net. And when it all seemed to be unraveling at 2-5, he did everything he could to keep it together and give Zverev a chance to tighten up. You never what can happen when you save a match point with a short-hop reflex forehand.

“It’s amazing, especially the way the match ended, with such high emotions,” Fritz said. “It was a dream come true.”