For many of the game’s rising stars, the Challenger circuit serves as a springboard to success on the ATP World Tour. It’s safe to say Taylor Fritz’s springs have been well oiled in recent weeks. Armed with an unflappable serve and stoic demeanor, Fritz is keeping his cards close to his chest as he continues his dramatic ascent up the Emirates ATP Rankings.
The 17 year old from Rancho Santa Fe, California, is in the midst of one of the most impressive starts to a pro career after capping his junior career with a US Open title last month. He has not lost a match since, saving a combined 47 of 51 break points in capturing back-to-back crowns on the ATP Challenger Tour in Sacramento and Fairfield. His formidable form has put him in elite company, becoming the ninth player to win multiple titles while under the age of 18, joining the likes of Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal, Juan Martin del Potro and Tomas Berdych. He is only the second player to do so in consecutive weeks, with the late Horst Skoff.
The youngest American titlist on the Challenger circuit since Donald Young in Aptos 2007, Fritz has enjoyed a staggering rise from World No. 694 to No. 232 in just two weeks. He is also one of 12 teens to win a match on the ATP World Tour this year, having ousted Pablo Carreno Busta on the grass of Nottingham in June.
Watch: Meet Taylor Fritz
With his sights set on a third consecutive Challenger title this week in Las Vegas, Fritz talked to ATPWorldTour.com, reflecting on his dominant run of form and revealing his ambitions for the coming months.
You had mentioned that the US Open was the perfect ending to your junior career and winning in Sacramento was the perfect beginning to your pro career. How did you adjust going from facing players your age to those at the professional level?
I just worked really hard [at the USTA training facility] in Carson for a couple weeks after the Open. The biggest thing was keeping my focus up the whole time at the Challengers and playing the big points with lots of urgency.
It proved to me that I’m fitter than I used to be. Even in juniors, I’ve never played two tournaments without getting tired or fatigued. I just went back to back at the Challenger level, which is more draining on the body when you’re playing this type of players. It proved to me that my physical level is getting a lot better and the confidence I have from winning all these matches is helping me a lot knowing that I should be here. It’s reassuring because I had a tough decision to make between turning pro and going to college.
Have you had time to digest what you’ve accomplished in recent weeks? You’re in elite company.
It’s been a really good two weeks and it’s a really big accomplishment, but I need to stay humble. I’m only No. 240 now [in the Emirates ATP Rankings] and I need to keep my head down and keep working hard. Hopefully I can keep it going.
You said you originally had a two-month training block planned after Fairfield, but have decided to cut that down and enter more Challenger tournaments. Why did you make that decision?
It’s probably best because while I had those two great results, I have no points to defend until this time next year. I still want to get my ranking up, so when it comes around next year I’m not so dependent on these points.
You saved 47 of 51 break points faced these two weeks and while you want to avoid putting yourself in those situations, how much confidence does your strong serve give you?
I don’t feel much pressure when I’m down break points. Obviously you don’t want to get into those situations, but I feel like I’m always saving something that I haven’t done that I can do on a break point. I try and play it how I would play any other point and make the person beat me. If they can play a big point and beat me then it’s just too good.
Will you pull out something different with your serve on a break point and try to mix up the pace and location?
I might. I definitely don’t want them to predict what I’m going to do on break points. I’ll change it up based on what I think they are thinking. There are a lot of mind games that go into my shot selection on break points.
You are part of a special group of rising Americans and you all seem to be close friends. While you are tight off the court, how do you push each other to be even better?
We all push each other because when one of us does well, the rest of us think that we could do that too. And we want to do that. It’s all friendly competition. We all want to do better than each other. I know the other guys want to come back and do the same thing when one of us does well. That’s going to help us all become better players in the end.
Tell us more about who Taylor is off the court. What are your interests outside of tennis?
I like to spend a lot of time with friends and play video games, especially FIFA. I like to go to the beach too. I’m from San Diego so going to the beach and hanging out with friends there is a lot of fun when I’m home.
With your parents both having played professional tennis, how much of an influence have they been and what is the most important lesson you’ve picked up?
All these things on the court my dad has drilled into my head since I was a little kid. Usually when I miss a ball I know what I’m doing wrong because I’ve heard it a million times. They’ve helped me so much with scheduling and decision making along the way because they’ve been there. They have also taught me to have fun with it because there are no expectations and pressure.
Who have you looked up to the most over the years and modeled your work ethic after?
If we’re talking tennis, it’s Pete Sampras. He’s my favourite player of all time for sure. The way he played and everything he did on and off the court, there was a lot to like. For work ethic, I’d say Cristiano Ronaldo.
What are your immediate goals for the rest of 2015 and moving forward next year?
After I lost in US Open qualifying I said that next year I want to be there off of my ranking and now we’re only a month past that. I want to be Top 150. I think that’s doable and I’ll go from there. I just got here so I don’t really know what tough goals are that are doable.