Southern California Favorite Fritz Earns Return Trip To Indian Wells Semifinals

Taylor Fritz (photo: ATP Tour video)

INDIAN WELLS/WASHINGTON, March 19, 2022 (by Michael Dickens)

Southern California native Taylor Fritz, who calls playing at Indian Wells his home tournament, reached his second BNP Paribas Open semifinal in six months Friday after defeating Miomir Kecmanovic of Serbia, 7-6 (5), 3-6, 6-1.

The 24-year-old Fritz, who is seeded 20th, became the first American man to play in back-to-back Indian Wells quarterfinals – and the first to reach successive semifinals – since Andy Roddick in 2009-10. He’s now 13-5 lifetime at Indian Wells Tennis Garden. Last year, Fritz earned a semifinal spot when the tournament was moved from its usual March place on the tennis calendar to October due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Except for a three double-fault game that cost him the second set – and in which he seemed to lose his sense of rhythm – Fritz was in control against the 61st-ranked Kecmanovic during their nearly-two-hour match on Stadium 1. Especially, after Fritz rolled to a 5-0 lead in the final set.

“I’m really so happy,” Fritz said during his post-match remarks. “I knew that I was going to be dealing with a lot of nerves today. It’s a huge match and I kind of forgot how to play tennis for one game there in the second set but I’m really proud of the fact that I did that and I was kind of able to mentally pull myself back together, regroup and play a really solid third set.”

Fritz struck 14 aces, including on match point, hit 39 winners, won 90 percent (44 of 49) of his first-serve points, and was broken just once. He outpointed his opponent 96-82. Fritz has been very successful in three-set matches this year winning five of seven and he’s 6-2 in tie-breaks.

Following his breakthrough run at Indian Wells last October, Fritz has played some of the best tennis of his career, compiling a 12-4 win-loss record this year. Now, he’s set to become the No. 1 American man in the ATP Rankings, again, on Monday.

With No. 2 seed Novak Djokovic withdrawn from the outset of the tournament, the lower half has been one filled with opportunity. Fritz has stepped up to the challenge. So, too, has No. 7 seed Andrey Rublev of Russia, who is undefeated in his last 13 matches – two wins shy of his career best. The World No. 7 began Friday’s play at Indian Wells Tennis Garden with a 7-5, 6-2 victory over No. 33 seed Grigor Dimitrov of Bulgaria, in which he broke his opponent’s serve four times in 10 tries and won eight of the final 10 games of the match to reach his first Indian Wells semifinal.

“I played many matches with Grigor, many matches he won, some matches I won as well,” Rublev said after his victory, a match in which he never trailed. “I knew that today I had to serve well, because the way he played from the baseline, the way he moves, the way he plays with the forehand, it was going to be really tough if I would play a bit passive – I knew that I had to be aggressive. So, it was more about which player was able to dictate first.”

Rublev hasn’t lost a set this year at Indian Wells and he’s into his fourth Masters 1000 semifinal since the beginning of 2021 and first this season. The Russian has already won 18 of his 20 matches this season and captured two titles, at Marseille and Dubai.

Looking ahead to their Saturday semifinal, Fritz and Rublev have split four previous meetings. Both are seeking their first trip to the Indian Wells final. Meanwhile, World No. 4 and fourth seed Rafael Nadal will oppose 18-year-old No. 19 seed Carlos Alcaraz in the other men’s semifinal, in an all-Spanish conquest following the Fritz-Rublev tussle.

“It’s crazy,” said Fritz, during his post-match news conference. “I mean, especially me and Andrey have so much history playing each other in the juniors so much. We had several meetings in the juniors. He took me out on grass one time. I got him in the finals in Mexico one time. He got me in the finals of the junior masters. We’ve gone back and forth so much.

“It’s crazy just to think back,” Fritz added. “You go back to 2018 when we played here (won by Fritz in straight sets in the second round) I’m thinking back when we were 17-years-old playing in the juniors, just like before either one of us were having any kind of professional results. It’s really cool to see how we’ve come up together and the kind of results we’re producing now.”

Although Rublev will be favored based upon their current ranking, he was quick to give props to Fritz during his post-match interview. “He’s a great player, so talented,” he said. “He has won many good matches. He has an amazing serve; good, strong shots. Especially here on a hard surface. The way he plays fits him a lot.”

Friday’s BNP Paribas Open results

Saturday’s BNP Paribas Open order of play

By the numbers

Andrey Rublev has won 13 straight matches since Valentine’s Day, including back-to-back titles at Marseille and Dubai. If the World No. 7 Rublev garners his first ATP Masters 1000 championship this weekend, he will tie the longest win streak of his career. Rublev earned 15 straight victories from November 2019 to January 2020.

“Quotable …”

“Well, it’s amazing to play against Rafa. It’s my idol since I’m a kid. So, it’s never easy to play against him, but I think it’s going to be a great match. I think it’s a great experience for me to meet him in [a] Masters 1000 semifinal here at Indian Wells. Yeah, I’m going to have fun out there and enjoy every single second in the match. Yeah, it’s a special experience for me.”

Carlos Alcaraz of Spain, just 18, who is facing 23-time major titlist Rafael Nadal in Saturday’s semifinal round.