Fritz Maintains Composure Against Dimitrov, Advances To Rome Quarterfinals

Taylor Fritz (photo: Adelchi Fioriti/Foto FITP)

ROME/WASHINGTON, May 14, 2024 (by Michael Dickens)

Taylor Fritz may have lost the battle that was an intense, 24-point second-set tie-break against Grigor Dimitrov at the Internazionali BNL d’Italia in Rome Tuesday afternoon. Soon after, though, the No. 11 seed from the United States won the war.

As retired New York Times columnist and long-time tennis observer Christopher Clarey noted on social media, “Fritz can clay.”

Fritz beat the eighth seed Dimitrov from Bulgaria, 6-2, 6-7 (11), 6-1, in two hours and 42 minutes on Campo Centrale at Foro Italico to reach his 50th career tour-level quarterfinal as well as his 11th ATP Masters 1000 quarterfinals – and second of the season following Madrid. He’s also become the first American to reach quarterfinals at three different clay-court ATP Masters 1000 events after reaching the last eight in Monte-Carlo (2022-23) and Madrid (2024).

The key to World No. 13 Fritz’s victory over World No. 10 Dimitrov was his ability to maintain his composure after the frustration of losing the lengthy, second-set tie-break, in which he squandered one match point (at 8-7) but saved seven set points — nine overall in the set — from his opponent before a double-fault against the American decided matters.

In the final set, Fritz broke Dimitrov twice, in the second and fifth games, to help secure his 22nd win of the season. He struck 27 winners, including 13 aces, saved all 11 break points he faced while converting four break points of his own, and outpointed Dimitrov 113-87. Fritz has now defeated Dimitrov twice in their three career meetings.

“To be honest, I feel like normally in those situations, I’d be a lot more uptight and nervy, but honestly I felt pretty calm,” said Fritz, asked during his on-court interview to describe the emotions of battling through a 24-point tie-break. “I think it was tough because slowly the sun was moving the whole match, and right in the tie-breaker is the first time it was bad for me on that side. So, I threw in the double fault.

“I had a really good opportunity on a second serve [return], match point, and he hit it into my body and a bit slower than the other ones. I just caught it a bit early trying to get out the way of it. It’s easy to go back and dwell on that the whole third set, but I did a really good job at just putting it behind me and not thinking about that second serve return.”

Next, Fritz will play World No. 5 and third seed Alexander Zverev of Germany, who won the Rome title in 2017.

On Tuesday, Zverev reached his third ATP Masters 1000 quarterfinal of 2024 with a 6-2, 7-5 victory over unseeded Nuno Borges of Portugal, ranked 53rd, in an hour and 26 minutes on Campo Centrale. In their first meeting, Zverev hit 23 winners and outpointed Borges 65-47.

“Im in the quarterfinals. If I won in straight sets, it’s always a bonus,” Zverev said in his on-court interview. “I know the matches will get tougher from now on. Taylor has been playing extremely well on clay this year, semis in Madrid, quarters here. Of course, I want to do my best and give myself my best chance [to win].”

Zverev’s triumph lifted him into his 28th career ATP Masters 1000 quarterfinal – he’s 17-10 in them – which ties him with Michael Chang for 10th-most quarterfinals in Masters 1000 series history (since 1990). He improved to 19-1 against players ranked outside the Top 5 in Rome.

Tabilo reaches first ATP Masters 1000 quarterfinal

Two days after Chile’s Alejandro Tabilo created the upset of the tournament by taking out World No. 1 Novak Djokovic in straight sets, he reached his first ATP Masters 1000 quarterfinal.

The Canada-born Chilean No. 2 beat World No. 18 Karen Khachanov of Russia,  7-6 (5), 7-6 (10), in two hours and 32 minutes on the Grand Stand Arena.

While the 16th seed Khachanov was seeking a quarterfinal berth at his seventh different ATP Masters 1000 event, Tabilo had other ideas. He fought off two set points during the second-set tie-break from the Russian and went on to win on his fifth match point. The victory for the World No. 32 improved his PIF ATP Live Ranking to No. 28.

“It’s an unbelievable feeling,” Tabilo said in his on-court interview. “It’s been a lot of hard work with the team, with ups and downs, and being able to be in my first [Masters 1000] quarter-final is an unreal feeling.

“With the win [against Djokovic] two days ago, it has been crazy. The first day I just tried to turn off my phone and be with my team, be with the people close to me. Now I’m just so happy I was able to refresh my mind, come out here, and try to play my tennis.”

In the quarterfinal round, the 29th seed Tabilo will take on No. 56 Zhang Zhizhen of China, who eliminated 106th-ranked Brazilian qualifier Thiago Monteiro, 7-6 (4), 6-3, in one hour and 56 minutes on the Grand Stand Arena. Zhang hit a second-serve ace – his 10th of the match – and won the fourth-round tussle on his third match point. He finished with 24 winners and outpointed his opponent 75-68.

“I just tried to accept the pressure and tried to focus … I used my big weapon, my serve, to win. I’m super happy that after one year I’m into the quarters of a Masters [again],” Zhang said during his on-court interview.

Monteiro was the third lefty that Zhang has beaten in Rome during the Italian fortnight – and the Chinese No. 1 will face another one in Tabilo in the quarterfinal round.

Zhang, who became the first Chinese man to reach round of 16 in Rome’s Open Era tournament history, now advances to his second ATP Masters 1000 quarterfinal (following Madrid last year). His live ranking has improved to No. 42.

Hurkacz garners emotionally-charged win over Baez

On a very lively Pietrangeli Tuesday evening, World No. 9 Hubert Hurkacz of Poland became the 11th active player to reach the quarterfinals at all nine active ATP Masters 1000 events.

Hurkacz came from a set and a break down to win an emotionally-charged 5-7, 7-6 (4), 6-4 third-round match over Argentina’s Sebastian Baez, who came in with an ATP Tour-leading 17 wins on clay in 2024.

“Definitely super emotional,” said Hurkacz in his on-court interview, describing how he felt and in describing the atmosphere on the intimate Pietrangeli court. “Sebastian played some really solid tennis, he was playing well, completely great. I just couldn’t find my rhythm in the beginning. Normally I would have more weapons than I had today. I just had to accept it and really, really battle.”

While the 19th-ranked Baez aimed to be the third active player from Argentina to reach an ATP Masters 1000 quarterfinal after Diego Schwartzman (7) and Francisco Cerundolo (4) – and to earn his second career Top-10 win – Hurkacz proved too much. He fired 17 aces – the last one setting up match point – and struck 45 winners. Plus, he won 84 percent of his first-serve points and outpointed Baez 108-103.

“I dedicate the win to the guys there,” Hurkacz said, beaming a smile and pointing to his many fans who crowded the baseline. He shared high-fives with many of them after he secured his 26th victory of the season. “They supported me incredibly well during the tough moments and I’m so thankful to them.”

Next, Hurkacz will play No. 14 seed Tommy Paul of the United States, who upset World No. 4 and defending champion Daniil Medvedev of Russia, 6-1, 6-4, in 73 minutes on Grand Stand Arena. The No. 2 seed Medvedev was the highest-remaining seed after top seed Novak Djokovic was upset by No. 29 seed Alejandro Tabilo of Chile in the second round on Sunday.

Paul, 26, proved the steadier player Tuesday evening in earning his first Top-20 triumph on clay and advancing to his fifth ATP Masters 1000:quarterfinal. He outpointed Medvedev 58-42 by hitting 19 winners and converting five of six break-point opportunities. Medvedev mustered just eight winners and made 22 unforced errors.

“I think it was a pretty clean match for me except for the first or second game,” Paul said on court afterward. “In both sets, I started kind of slow but picked it up and played some pretty good tennis. I played pretty aggressive, that was the game plan coming in.”

With both Paul and Taylor Fritz both reaching the quarterfinals, it marks the first time multiple Americans have advanced that far in Rome since Andy Roddick and James Blake reached the last eight in 2008.

Around the Foro Italico

Chilean No. 1 Nicolas Jarry, ranked 24th, garnered his first ATP Masters 1000 quarterfinal berth on clay by defeating 109th-ranked qualifier Alexandre Muller of France, 7-5, 6-3, in an hour and 34 minutes on the Grand Stand Arena.

Muller, who upset World No. 6 and Madrid champion Andrey Rublev in the third round on Monday, was no match for Jarry. The No. 21 seed struck 43 winners overall, including 15 aces, converted three of six break points and outpointed Muller 75-59 in collecting his 14th win of the season.

“It was a very complete performance,” Jarry said during his on-court interview. “I’m extremely happy. It’s one of the best matches I’ve ever played. I’m extremely proud of myself.”

Next, Jarry will face  World No. 8 and sixth seed Stefanos Tsitsipas of Greece, who needed just a hour to beat World No. 11 and ninth seed Alex de Minaur of Australia, 6-1, 6-2. The Greek star hit 15 winners and committed just four unforced errors. He outpointed de Minaur 53-27.

Tsitsipas improved to 13-2 on clay this season, highlighted by his third ATP Masters 1000 Monte-Carlo title and reaching the final at Barcelona. Now, he’s through to his 23rd ATP Masters 1000 quarterfinal — the 12th on clay — and fourth straight in Rome.

“I tried to do the best that I could out there on the court by bringing out the best quality on my strokes,” Tsitsipas said during his post-match interview on Campo Centrale. “I delivered. Throughout the entire match, I was pretty consistent with my serves and the ball placement, and I was able to construct the points patiently and wait for the shorter balls to come up.

“I really felt that my opponent felt the heaviness and the depth of my ball. It gave me courage, it gave me great belief in myself that I can continue pushing in that sense. I knew that I had something good working for me today.”

In doubles play, Italy’s Simone Bolelli and Andrea Vavassori upset No. 2 seeds Rohan Bopanna of India and Matthew Ebden of Australia, 6-2, 6-4, in 73 minutes on Pietrangeli to advance to the quarterfinal round.

Also, top-seeded Marcel Granollers of Spain and Horacio Zeballos of Argentina, who won the Rome title in 2020, moved into the quarterfinals with a 6-4, 6-2 win over Rafael Matos of Brazil and Andres Molteni of Argentina.

Tuesday’s Foro Italico results

Wednesday’s Foro Italico order of play

By the numbers

There are 10 active players who have reached the quarterfinals at all nine of the ATP Masters 1000 events: Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic, Andy Murray, Gaël Monfils, Marin Cilic, Dominic Thiem, Stefanos Tsitsipas, Alexander Zverev, Grigor Dimitrov, Daniil Medvedev.

“Quotable …”

“Sometimes you have that feeling, that you feel very good and are cool under pressure, and sometimes you don’t. It comes and it goes, and today I felt very calm throughout the whole match. I genuinely just felt calm today.”

Taylor Fritz of the United States, during his on-court interview, asked to describe why he handled pressure points against Grigor Dimitrov so well.