By John Delong
It’s still very early in the career of American #NextGen star Taylor Fritz, but already he is showing the heart of a champion.
Fritz put on an incredible display of heart on Monday night in the first round of the Winston-Salem Open, as he rallied from down a set and a break to pull out a 4-6, 6-4, 6-3 victory over Malek Jaziri.
The 19-year-old Californian endured wild momentum swings and played his best tennis late in the match, and that was good enough to earn a spot in Tuesday’s second round against 10th-seeded Yuichi Sugita.
“There were more momentum swings than usual,” Fritz said. “The conditions on the court changed a lot during the course of the match. It was a really up and down match and it was whoever was going to raise their level at the given time was going to win it.”
Fritz, one of four wild cards in the Main Draw, came into the match ranked No. 116 after being as high as No. 53 at this time last year.
He had fallen as low as No. 136 in February no thanks to knee problems that shelved him for almost two months.
He said he has felt completely healthy since the start of the grass-court season, and now he is working his way back up the rankings. In recent weeks he has made the semifinals of a Challenger event in Aptos, Ca., and reached the quarterfinals in a 250 event in Los Cabos.
“The last couple of weeks have been really good for me,” Fritz said. “I’ve been playing really solid tennis. I think I’ve been hitting the ball really good for some time now. I think it’s been more mental, finding out what makes me me, coming up with shots in big situations, not getting nervous, really performing my best under pressure, and I feel that’s come back to me in the past few weeks. I played great tennis in Cabos, and Aptos, and last week in Vancouver I lost to the guy who won the tournament.
“So I’m feeling better about my game and I’m looking for a deep run this week. I think I can make a deep run.”
Fritz won the first three games of the first set and had two break points to go up 4-0. But Jaziri, who came into the match ranked No. 80, caught fire to win six of the next seven games. Jaziri seemed in control up a break in the second set at 3-2, but the tables turned again at that point and Fritz got the break back and then wound up breaking again in the final game of the set.
How did he get the match turned around?
“I felt like I wasn’t playing great but I was hitting the ball well, making good plays, just making too many mistakes,” Fritz said. “Maybe I wasn’t serving my best, but I knew to get back in the match was just a little bit ahead of my level. I was right there. I knew it. He did the same thing to me in the first set, and I knew if he did it in the first set, I could do it in the second set.”
He then got the only break he needed in the eighth game of the third set for a 5-3 lead, and then he served out the match.
“Even though he was coming a lot closer to breaking me than I was to breaking him in the third set, I thought all I needed was to connect,” Fritz said. “I felt like I was just barely missing some balls to not get in some of his service games, so I thought I just needed to connect to get in on one of his service games. That was my plan, to keep staying tough on my serve and not get broken and connect on one game.”
In other matches on Stadium Court, Donald Young had an easy time beating qualifier Rogerio Dutra Silva 6-4, 6-2; Julien Benneteau beat Pierre-Hugues Herbert 6-3, 6-2; and in a second-round match Jan-Lennard Struff beat fifth-seeded Pablo Cuevas 7-6 (2), 7-5.
Young needed just one hour and nine minutes to dispatch Dutra Silva, dominating the match after being broken in his first service game. The 28-year-old from Atlanta had a lucky number of 65; he got 65 percent of his first serves in, won 65 percent of his first-serve points, and also won 65 percent of his second-serve points.
Young, ranked No. 57, had lost in the first round in each of his two previous tournaments, in Cincinnati and Montreal.
“Any win at this level before the Open builds confidence, so every one I get, I feel better about myself,” Young said. “I’m glad to do it here and keep my summer going. I had a great spring, a good grass-court season as well. Lately I’ve been experimenting with some things but now it’s time to get back to the basics and get ready for the Open, and I’m feeling good.”
Benneteau prevailed in a matchup of two former WSO finalists, both of whom had been Cinderella stories from qualifying. Benneteau advanced from qualifying in the inaugural 2011 WSO before losing to John Isner, while Herbert made it to the 2015 finals before losing to Kevin Anderson.
Benneteau took advantage of a tired Herbert on Monday, as Herbert arrived in Winston-Salem late Sunday after teaming with Nicolas Mahut to win the doubles title in Cincinnati. Herbert and Mahut had also won the doubles title at Montreal the week before.
Benneteau is currently ranked No. 107, while Herbert was No. 64.
“It was a very good match for me, solid,” Benneteau said. “I knew and I expected that Pierre was a little bit tired coming from Cincinnati. But with his game, you never know because he has a very good serve and he can be very dangerous with his ground strokes, so even if he’s a little bit tired he’s still dangerous. So I’m happy with the way I played today.”
Struff had to scratch and claw to beat Cuevas after letting several opportunities slip away, but he was pleased with the way he held his composure.
“I’m very happy to win,” he said. “Especially to win the tiebreak after I had set points. I’m very happy with the way I played the tie-break. That’s three tie-breaks in two days. Before yesterday I was 2-12 in tie-breaks this year, so I’m happy with the way I have played here.”
Struff beat Norbert Gombos 7-6 (3), 7-6 (4) in the first round on Sunday.
In first-round singles matches on outer courts, Andreas Seppi beat Janko Tipsarevic 6-2, 6-2; Andrey Rublev beat Steve Darcis 6-4, 6-4; Yen-Hsun Lu beat Jonathan Eysseric 6-2, 6-1; Carlos Berlocq beat Alex Bolt 6-2, 6-4; qualifier Marton Fucsovics beat Ernests Gulbis 7-6 (1), 6-2; Kyle Edmund beat Thomas Fabbiano 6-2, 6-3; Horacio Zeballos beat Dominik Koepfer 6-2, 6-1; Damir Dzumhur beat Denis Istomin 6-4, 6-4; and in a second-round match, Marcos Baghdatis beat 16th-seeded Jiri Vesely 6-2, 7-6 (3).
And in first-round doubles, the team of Paolo Lorenzi and Franko Skugor beat Leander Paes and Purav Raja 6-7 (3), 6-3, 10-5; and the second-seeded team of Jean-Julien Rojer and Horia Tecau beat Dominic Inglot and Daniel Nestor 6-3, 6-4.