WATCH: Sinner navigated three tricky sets to dispatch the defending champion in Indian Wells.

It was close until it wasn’t.

There was Jannik Sinner, serving at 3-4, love-15 in the third set of what had been a high-quality BNP Paribas Open quarterfinal tussle versus defending champion Taylor Fritz.

And then, everything rushed to the finish line. Sinner won 12 of the next 13 points, a surprisingly swift conclusion, 6-4, 4-6, 6-4. Out was the holder. Sinner remained, in the semis of a Masters 1000 event for the second time.

For Sinner, the victory was a major step forward. His power from the baseline has long impressed. But today, Sinner drew on many of the lessons gained from his work with legendary coach, Australian Darren Cahill (the two began their collaboration last June).

Said Sinner this evening, “We start to learn also the opponent much better, which is one point where, for sure we, all of us, we invested a lot. Where in the beginning for me was tough to understand, because I used to play only with my game plan but not with my opponent's one.” One smart step Sinner took versus Fritz was to alter his return position, standing closer in the deuce court to cut off Fritz’s wide delivery.

And as Fritz pointed out, Sinner was far more effective in handling the wind, a significant intruder that can drastically undermine the hard, flat drives these two each hit so well. “I think the wind played a really big part in how the match was decided,” said Fritz.


...Now I am a different player. Also, with the mindset I know when to do things or when things are not working, trying to change as soon as possible. Jannik Sinner

“I think that he played the side when he had the wind at his back, when he was with the wind, I thought he played that side a lot better than I did...Because the wind is blowing the ball with you, it's easy to miss it long, it's easy to make more mistakes on that side. So, on that side I felt like I was a little bit too passive. I felt like if I kind of took a cut, the wind would just take it long.

“I felt like when I was against the wind, I was swinging as hard as I could on every ball and the wind was just absolutely killing it, and it wasn't going anywhere. I kind of just had to rely on him to miss.”

Yet frustrated as Fritz was by the elements, much of the tennis told a different story, one less about bluster and more about each man’s ability to come up with excellent tennis on so many occasions. Early on, Sinner had the advantage. He broke Fritz in the opening game and held on to that break all through the first set.

Then Fritz dug in. The Fritz playing style combines offense and defense, an intriguing mix of big serving, excellent counterpunching, and forthright firepower. All through the second set, Fritz stepped up the pace. The rallies between these two were often exemplary demonstrations of contemporary, power baseline tennis. The slow court also blunted each man’s desire to rush the net. Back and forth it went.

In the late stages of the second set, Sinner was the one who blinked. Serving at 4-5, 15-all, Sinner flagged a backhand long and lined a forehand into the net. One point away from levelling the match, Fritz scampered brilliantly to track down a Sinner volley and direct a delicately accurate down-the-line forehand passing shot.


“When I saw the matchup already yesterday,” said Sinner. “I knew that what I had to expect. Tough match. Also, a little bit with the crowd, which is not against me but is more for him.”

Perhaps, but of negligible impact. The rallies were often of such high quality that the crowd’s affections were evenly divided. So, what if Fritz was the Southern Californian who’d won the title last year? Sinner’s pure proficiency off the ground is a surefire fan favorite.

And though Fritz had also beaten Sinner here in 2021, he was well aware how much the Italian has gotten better since then.

“But I've known his serve has improved a lot,” said Fritz. “As far as his groundstrokes go, they've always been really good. So I can't say I see much of a change there. I think that's the only thing that he ever really needed to improve from when we played two years ago was the serve, and it seems to be a lot better. Like I said, I've known that. We've practiced quite a bit.”

Sinner concurred. “But now I am a different player,” he said. “Also, with the mindset I know when to do things or when things are not working, trying to change as soon as possible.”

Versus Fritz today, Sinner adapted best precisely when he needed to most.