By John Delong, Winston-Salem Open
WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. - Taylor Fritz came to the Winston-Salem Open hoping to regain some confidence going into the US Open and looking to gain a little revenge against Frances Tiafoe. He was able to accomplish both missions as he cruised to a 6-1, 6-4 first-round victory in the battle of heralded American 18-year-olds.
It was an emphatic statement and a dominant performance after Tiafoe had won all four previous singles matches between the two, including one in Indian Wells earlier this year.
“This week I just really wanted to find my game, play some good matches and get ready for the US Open, because obviously, it’s the US Open,” Fritz said. “I haven’t been playing my best tennis over the last couple of weeks, so it was really good to come here and play a really good match today and beat someone I’ve never beaten before. So that gives me a lot of confidence moving forward. Confidence is definitely a key in my game.”
The victory moved Fritz into second-round action against 15th-seeded Fernando Verdasco on Tuesday.
“I thought I played a really great match from start to finish,” Fritz said. “I didn’t let it get too nervy, which I might have been afraid of, because I had never beaten him before and I wanted to so badly. I tried to treat it like any other match, but you can’t not think about the fact that you’ve never beaten him. I think when I played him at Indian Wells I was thinking about it too much. It was like I wanted it way too badly and it caused me to play too nervy. But today, I came out with no expectations, I didn’t feel entitled at all, and I think that’s what allowed me to play loose and free and play a really good match.”
Fritz, currently No. 54 in the latest ATP World Tour rankings, was ranked No. 678 at this time a year ago, just before winning the US Open junior title.
He burst onto the ATP World Tour scene by advancing all the way to the finals at Memphis in February before losing to Kei Nishikori, and he has continued to climb the rankings throughout the year. He’s currently at a career-best ranking, although he has suffered first-round losses in five of his last seven tournaments.
“I started off the year great, but I’ve been struggling a bit, not having the results maybe I wanted to have,” Fritz said. “I understand that happens a lot to people who come onto the tour, so it’s not unexpected. But taking this one from Frances will give me confidence and hopefully I can turn it around here and keep playing off that.”
He said that he and Tiafoe, who is currently ranked one spot off his career-high No. 124, marveled before their match at how far they had come in a year.
“It’s crazy that we’re where we are right now,” Fritz said. “Neither one of us thought we’d be where we are now, a year later. It’s funny, we were talking about that. I definitely set my expectations (after turning professional) and I thought I set them high. But I guess not. It’s really crazy to think about.”
Make no mistake, he is definitely embracing the high expectations that are starting to follow him as a member of the ATP’s #NextGen promotional campaign.
“Who wouldn’t like that?” he said. “Some people can handle it better than others, but I like the confidence and the praise people give to this group and me. At the same time, there’s a really long way to go and we understand that even though people are saying all these great things doesn’t make them true. So I just have to keep working hard and keep my head down and maybe someday I’ll get there.”
Tiafoe was clearly dejected after the match. He was looking to repeat last year’s performance at the WSO, when he scored the first ATP World Tour match win of his career, but he was out of sorts almost from the start.
“It was not pretty at all,” Tiafoe said. “I came out sloppy and wasn’t really hitting my shots at all. I really wasn’t even there today. It hurts a lot. I’m not the happiest guy right now. No disrespect to Taylor, though. I know he really wanted this match, and he played solid. He played well.”
In other first-round matches on Monday afternoon, Donald Young beat last year’s runner-up Pierre-Hugues Herbert 6-4, 6-1, Kyle Edmund beat wildcard Rajeev Ram 7-5, 7-5, Jiri Vesely beat Tim Van Rijthoven 3-6, 6-3, 6-3, Malek Jaziri beat Radu Albot 6-2, 6-4 and Aljaz Bedene beat James McGee 3-6, 7-6 (5), 6-2.