Taylor Fritz’s emphatic run to the Indian Wells title in mid-March felt like a seismic moment in the sport – until other storylines promptly overshadowed it.
In the mere six weeks since, teenager Carlos Alcaraz won the Miami Masters and later cracked the top 10 with victory in Barcelona. Stefanos Tsitsipas defended his Monte Carlo Masters title – the same tournament at which world No.1 Novak Djokovic returned to the competitive fold – to establish himself among the Roland Garros favourites.
Rafael Nadal, who Fritz stunned in the Indian Wells final, made a highly-anticipated comeback in Madrid following a rib injury, while Roger Federer also announced his comeback plans for the ATP event in Basel later in 2022.
All this has made Fritz’s Indian Wells breakthrough feel like it happened longer ago than it actually did.
Nevertheless, there is much to like about the trajectory of the 24-year-old American, who is currently fifth in the points race to the season-ending ATP Finals in Turin.
After Indian Wells he extended his unbeaten streak to nine matches by advancing to the last 16 in Miami, then posted back-to-back clay-court quarterfinals in Houston and Monte Carlo.
Former pro Todd Martin has observed his young countryman’s progress with interest and believes the cumulative effect of his impressive results will linger.
"Winning six matches in a row (at Indian Wells) against anybody – that is a huge step,” Martin told ausopen.com.
“When Taylor goes to bed, when he gets up the next morning, when he goes to the practice courts, that sense will exist, or will impact and improve his self-confidence, what his vision is for his own game.”
Martin, a former world No.4 who reached major finals at Australian Open 1994 and US Open 1999, shared the following analogy: on the streets of New York City, everything looks messy and one wonders how to get from point A to B, yet on top of a skyscraper, everything appears clearer.
“When a competitor is immature, they think about the small stuff. When they get more established, they're looking at everything from the roof of a skyscraper,” explained Martin, now the CEO of the International Tennis Hall of Fame.
"There's no way Taylor played six great matches at Indian Wells, but to know you've navigated all the blips and still come out (the other side), I think that only helps elevate the perspective of the athlete.
“I don't think it's necessarily an indication he's going to the top of the Empire State Building, but I do think it helps get him out of the stuff that gets in the way of a younger player’s performance.”
A new perspective
There does indeed seem an increased clarity and confidence to the way Fritz is competing.
He has played regularly on tour since 2016, the same year he cracked the top 100 as an 18-year-old. But in the five-and-a-half years following that breakthrough, he failed to clear the third round at any Grand Slam or Masters event (except for Indian Wells in 2018, where he reached the last 16.)
But in the past six months, he has slashed his ranking from 39th to 13th; his surge stems from his semifinal showing at last year’s Indian Wells tournament – rescheduled to October 2021 – and in the same span he enjoyed a run to the St. Petersburg final and appeared in the second week at AO 2022, his best ever result at a major.
Fritz was overcome with emotion immediately after beating an injury-affected yet ever-dogged Nadal in the Indian Wells final.
“I've lost these matches against the big guys my whole life. It's always felt like they're just unbeatable,” he admitted. “To win a big title, I feel like you've got to beat the best, and he's unbeaten this year.”
Fritz discussed in subsequent interviews the keys to his rise, including more trust in his ability to unleash his forehand – especially on big points – and simply playing those big points better, plus reminding himself never to feel satisfied.
And this all comes as little surprise to Martin.
“From witnessing others go through similar (evolutions), eventually we get out of our own way. And if we don't, eventually we're just out of work,” he said.
“(It's all about) focusing on what you can control. There's not a thing that can be controlled about results that have come and gone, or the fact the big guys have always beaten him.
“If I was 5-0 against somebody, I'd walk out on that court with a subconscious disposition of 'this guy's got no chance, because I own him'. If I was 0-5 against somebody, I walked out with a very conscious thought: 'I'm due'.”
So what might all this mean for Fritz in the weeks and months ahead?
A left foot injury forced him to withdraw late from Madrid, but he remains on the entry list for next week’s Rome Masters.
Should his body cooperate, Martin believes Fritz’s sustained level of success in the past six months bodes well.
“If you look through the results, they're consistent... there's also making it to the semis, winning a tournament, making it to the fourth round of really big tournaments, beating really good players consistently, losing to great players, but it's nip-and-tuck; that's like the 20th floor of the Empire State Building,” said Martin, continuing his analogy.
“The elevator goes both ways... but he will be able to sustain that perspective for a while now, I would believe. It's so fresh, there's so many positive memories in his head. If he sustains it for much longer, it’s then going to take a sustained level of failure to get the elevator to move back down.
"If Taylor wins a decent number of matches (on clay), he should look at that really positively. It's one thing for him to win Indian Wells, two hours away from where he grew up, very similar conditions. But to do that on foreign soil on a surface that doesn't at all really align with his game style, that will be in some ways just as strong of an indication that he's getting better, and is somebody to look out for as we continue to move forward.”