Fritz Survives 53 Watanuki Winners To Advance In Shanghai

  • Posted: Oct 07, 2023

Fritz Survives 53 Watanuki Winners To Advance In Shanghai

12th seed Paul cruises past Ofner

Taylor Fritz fought off a brilliant attacking performance from Japan’s Yosuke Watanuki to win his Saturday opener at the Rolex Shanghai Masters. The American earned a 7-6(2), 6-7(6), 6-4 victory, breaking in the match’s final game after he stopped his opponent from serving out each of the first two sets prior to the tie-breaks.

The 25-year-old Watanuki played one of the best matches of his career against his first Top 10 opponent but was thwarted by Fritz’s steadier play, particularly in the closing stages of each set. The World No. 79 did not face a break point until he lost serve at 5-4 in the opener, and he failed to serve out the second set at 5-3.

“It came down to the smallest margins,” said Fritz, who capitalised on the lone break point of the final set, which doubled as match point. “To be honest, it just came down to me upping it just a bit in the end and then him making mistakes when prior he wasn’t really doing much wrong.

“It was tough for me to play my game because no matter what shot I hit, he just blasted a winner or missed off of it. So I was just fighting to stay in it.”

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Watanuki hit 53 winners and 44 unforced errors, filling up the stat sheet compared to Fritz’s tidier 26-to-17 ratio. The Japanese player — who reached the final at a Shanghai ATP Challenger Tour event last month in his most recent previous tournament — hit 25 forehand winners, but also made 28 unforced errors off that wing.

In the face of Watanuki’s big hitting, Fritz stayed the course and was ultimately rewarded deep in the final set. He had a set point at 6/5 in the second-set tie-break, but was forced into a decider when Watanuki won three straight points to snatch the set.

“From the ground, there’s nothing I can do different,” Fritz said. “I’m not going to start red-lining and blasting every ball because of how well he’s playing. I’m going to try to hit the ball a little bigger and if he keeps coming up with winners and coming up with big shots, then it is what it is.”

Aided by 15 aces, the seventh-seeded Fritz improved to 51-20 on the season with the result. The 51 wins are a personal best for the American in a season, and he is the first American man with 50+ wins in a year since James Blake and Andy Roddick (both 54) in 2007.

The 25-year-old sits in ninth place in the Pepperstone ATP Live Race To Turin, currently on the outside looking in for a spot in the Nitto ATP Finals. But opening Shanghai defeats for seventh-placed Alexander Zverev and eighth-placed Holger Rune have opened the door for Fritz to make a move at the ATP Masters 1000. His win against Watanuki moved him within 235 points of Rune for a place in the all-important top eight.

Next up for the American is either 27th seed Jiri Lehecka or Diego Schwartzman.

American Tommy Paul also advanced on Saturday with a 6-3, 6-0 win against Sebastian Ofner. The 12th seed did not face a break point in the match and converted on five of his six break chances.

Paul will meet 24th seed Alejandro Davidovich Fokina or Arthur Fils in the next round.

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