By Richard Pagliaro | @Tennis_Now | Saturday, September 2, 2023
NEW YORK—A sound ground game has carried Taylor Fritz into the US Open fourth round for the first time.
Firing up his first serve is the key for Fritz unlocking an extended stay in Flushing Meadows.
Fritz drilled 10 aces, won 30 of 33 first-serve points and did not face a single break point demolishing 206th-ranked Czech Jakub Mensik on his 18th birthday on Friday.
Given that serving command—Fritz has dropped just 13 games through three rounds, his 89 percent first-serve points won leads the tournament and his 142 mph blast is the second fastest serve of the tournament behind Ben Shelton’s 148 mph missile and —you might think he’s being highly hyper-critical of his serving.
The 25-year-old Fritz, who faces 128th-ranked Swiss qualifier Dominic Stricker for a quarterfinal spot, sees it differently.
If Fritz is to reach his second career major quarterfinal—and more—this week he knows his wrecking ball serve must be a bigger weapon.
Because 23-time Grand Slam champion Novak Djokovic, a potential quarterfinal opponent, and reigning champion Carlos Alcaraz are better in running rallies.
“I think just the next step to, like, really — if we’re going to talk about going extremely deep, winning the tournament, I think the serve needs to be clicking a little more than it is,” Fritz said. “I think I’m getting away with winning a lot of baseline points and winning a lot of points on my second serve because just from the ground I’ve been, one, playing well, and just been a bit better from the ground than people I’ve played, I feel like.
“But I think when I start to play people that are very good from the ground, I am going to need to get more free points on my serve and rely more on my serve. I think that’s the next step, to up that percentage and serve a little bit better if I want to take out the top guys.”
Taking out Stricker, a former Roland Garros boys singles and doubles champion, could be tricky too.
The left-handed Stricker has already won six matches, including three in qualifying. Stricker stopped Alexei Popyrin, the man who beat Fritz at the Australian Open, in the first round before toppling Australian Open finalist Stefanos Tsitsipas in the second round.
There are four Americans in the US Open round of 16 for the first time since 2011. The ninth-seeded Fritz, who joined 2022 semifinalist Frances Tiafoe, AO semifinalist Tommy Paul and AO quarterfinalist Ben Shelton in the fourth round said he’s not surprised by this American anthem.
“I expected it. I expected Frances and Tommy to move forward,” Fritz said. “Yes, even yesterday before everyone played today, I looked at the draw. This side of the draw is crazy. I looked at it for the first time, the whole thing. I was like, Wow, one of these guys, on their side, is for sure making it to the semifinals. Not to put pressure on them, but… That’s just what I thought personally. I was like, Wow, I wonder who it’s going to be, but one of them is going to be in the semis, I’d say.
“Yeah, we’re all talking and seeing each other in the locker rooms and stuff. It’s cool. We’re going to hopefully keep it going.”
Photo credit: Brad Penner/USTA