It turns out that Taylor Fritz, the young American tennis player, is still not quite ready for prime time. But the gap is closing fast.
Fritz lost a highly competitive match Wednesday in the Round of 16 at the BNP Paribas Open. He battled for 2 hours 12 minutes against Borna Coric of Croatia before losing, 6-2, 6-7 (6), 6-4.
He also battled weather elements, if you can imagine there is such a thing in this tennis paradise.
The match started under blue skies, soft pillows of clouds and a sprinkle of people in the 16,100-seat main stadium. Late in the first set, lots of people and lots of wind descended upon the proceedings. Tennis players hate wind. That’s probably why you never see them spending time around sailors, except when they have to, such as when tournament owner Larry Ellison, he of America’s Cup fame, sits in his courtside box here.
Two veterans of such windy things, former tennis stars and current bright lights on Tennis Channel telecasts, painted a perfect word picture of the conditions during their afternoon commentary. Mary Carillo and Lindsay Davenport regaled viewers with a story about a man who once made his service toss and watched it blow away over a fence.
It wasn’t nearly that bad, although Fritz called the elements “insanely windy.”
Some things that need to be known about this young man from Southern California (Palos Verdes):
►He is 20 years old and was the youngest remaining in the men’s main draw as play opened Wednesday. Ponder his age in a different way — he was seven years old when Roger Federer first became No. 1 in the world. Had he won Wednesday, he was one match away from possibly playing Federer in the semifinals.
►He is 6 feet 4, 185 pounds, with thick brown hair and a deep voice. Yup, movie star stuff.
►He was the top junior in the world in 2015, and by 2016 had become the youngest player in the ATP’s top 100, getting as high as No. 53.
►His tennis heroes are Pete Sampras and Juan Martin del Potro. Figures. One a huge serve and the other a huge forehand.
►He has great genes. His dad, Guy Fritz, was a pro player. His mom, Kathy May, was once a top 10 women’s player.
►He will likely never want for the next meal. Mom is from the family that once gave us a familiar department store destination, The May Company.
Fritz has superstar athletic talent, good looks and family money, an invitation to become an insufferable prima donna, which he has not.
So, there is the pressure of expectation. A nation of U.S. men’s tennis followers turns its lonely eyes to Taylor Fritz. That made Wednesday in the desert yet another sneak preview.
Fritz played a loose first set, sending flailing forehands all over the place. That quickly served as a reminder that acquiring a big forehand is usually much easier than acquiring the temperament and maturity to know when and when not to use it. In that set, Coric was a rock.
“You don’t get too many freebies [from Coric],” Fritz said.
But Fritz gathered himself in the second, actually served for the set at 5-3 and got to a set point, which he lost. He then gathered himself again for the inevitable tiebreaker, and re-gathered after losing the first four points of that tiebreaker. Few climb out of this tennis basement. But Fritz ran off five straight points and won the set when Coric uncharacteristically dumped an easy backhand volley, with a wide-open court staring him in the face, into the net.
In the deciding set, Fritz opened with a break of serve, soon gave that advantage back, but still was within six points of a spot in the quarterfinals of this prestigious event when he got it to love-30 with Coric serving at 4-4. But Coric rallied.
Match point was devastating. Fritz hit the net cord with an 83 mile-an-hour second serve and it trampolined long.
“It sucks,” Fritz said, “and it is probably the biggest match I have played in my career …”
He also said, “In tennis, you have to take your opportunities … there are positives to take out, but it stings not going that extra bit and doing what you could have …”
Then he smiled, something tennis fans should expect to see often in the years ahead.