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A leg up: Taylor Fritz redefining timelines following his June surgery
Twenty-three days after a knee operation, the American is into the third round at Wimbledon. How long can he keep “this crazy run” going?
Published Jul 01, 2021
MATCH POINT: Fritz finishes off Steve Johnson in five sets to reach the third round.
All six feet, five inches of Taylor Fritz were splayed out across the baseline on Court 17. Like many of his fellow players this week, the Californian had taken a sudden and jolting tumble to the Wimbledon grass after turning his ankle. He laid there long enough that his friend and opponent, Steve Johnson, walked across the court to check on him.
Fritz may have wondered why he was still on the court at all, let alone flat on his back. Twenty minutes earlier, he had led Johnson two sets to one and 4-0 in the fourth-set tiebreaker. That’s normally closing time for Fritz, who prides himself on his ability to play better when the points mean more, and finish tight matches. This time, though, he played worse. Johnson won seven straight points to take the set. Now Fritz found himself down 1-2 in the fifth and struggling to fend off a series of break points.
But this is where one of Fritz’s other strengths kicked in: He let the past go, and didn’t spend much time beating himself up over a lost opportunity.
“I knew if I put myself down in the fifth then I was going to be in trouble,” he said, “so I immediately just focused on the fifth and told myself to keep fighting and keep competing and just trying to grind out the holds.”
“Eventually I'll get him on a game where he kind of makes some mistake, and that’s what happened.”
Fritz survived the break points at 1-2, went back and forth with Johnson until 4-4, and then ran away with the last two games. Fritz’s mindset in the fifth is telling. Instead of taking risks and trying to raise his own game down the stretch, he was willing to stay consistent and wait for his opponent to get nervous or go for too much and miss. It’s not a spectacular way to finish a match, but it’s a reliable one. Even at the top level, even on a hitter’s surface like grass, tennis matches are won not by hitting more winners, but by putting your opponent in position to make errors.
To some extent, though, everything Fritz does at Wimbledon must feel like gravy, like something extra. Just four weeks ago, after playing his last point at Roland Garros, Fritz couldn’t even stand up.
“I looked at my team, and I said, ‘Guys, I could be done for a long time.’ Because I have never had anything that felt like that. I heard it pop, you know. I heard it go.”
Fritz had an MRI and was told he’d need knee surgery and four to six weeks to recover. The surgeon told him that he might only need to snip the meniscus, rather than repair it. Snipping was a much better option than repairing.
“First thing when I woke up, I was loopy from the anesthesia, and the first thing I said was, ‘Did he repair it or did he snip it?’ Fritz said. “They said, ‘He snipped it.’
“Immediately from then on I was just thinking, like, Wimbledon, everything I can possibly do to be here.”
Twenty-three days later, Fritz is in the third round, and has played nine sets in three days. He says his knee doesn’t hurt at all.
“I’m positive this is the quickest anyone has ever returned to, like, actual professional competition from this surgery, definitely any sport that requires direction changes,” Fritz said today.
Now comes a sterner test, for Fritz’s game if not his knee: No. 4 seed Alexander Zverev. They played three years ago at Wimbledon, and the German won in five sets. But in 2019 in Basel, Fritz came away the winner.
“We’ve had some good matches,” Fritz said. “He got me in that five-setter here a couple years ago. I got him in Basel two years ago. So, you know, we have definitely seen a lot of each other and played some close matches. We’ll see.
“We both rely a lot on our serves. We both probably have more solid backhands as well and like to play aggressive.”
Beating Zverev would be a step-up win for Fritz. They’re around the same age—Zverev is 24, Fritz 23—but the fourth-ranked German has always been a rung or two higher than the 40th-ranked American on the Next Gen ladder. But maybe this is a good moment for Fritz to meet him. He’s just happy to be standing, let alone playing at Wimbledon.
“You know, whatever happens, happens,” Fritz said. “I have already done more than I think myself or anyone else expected.
“I’m just going to go out there and go for it. Maybe this crazy run can continue. I don’t see why not.”