Tiafoe or Fritz—which American will advance? It's a tough call.

How to gauge success in a promising young player? Start with results, the arrow pointed towards a steady stream of weekend appearances at smaller events and second-week runs at the majors. But along with that comes the need for certain kinds of victories, not just over peers, but those big wins that raise eyebrows among fans and peers. Toss in a level of sustainability—high-quality performances over time—and the sense begins to emerge that this hopeful might well be on the path towards something even better.

Over the last two months, Americans Taylor Fritz and Frances Tiafoe have commenced impressive periods of growth. Each reached the finals at an ATP event last week, the 26th-ranked Fritz in St. Petersburg; the 41st-ranked Tiafoe in Vienna. Each plays Tuesday at the Paris Masters, Fritz versus 27th-ranked Lorenzo Sonego, Tiafoe taking on qualifier Marcos Giron.

Based on what he did last week in Vienna, the 23-year-old Tiafoe will surely not underestimate a qualifier. Himself a qualifier at that tournament, Tiafoe won two matches to get into the main draw and then continued to play superbly. His victims included world No. 3 Stefanos Tsitsipas, the perpetually tough Diego Schwartzman and rapidly ascending Jannik Sinner. In the semis versus Sinner, Tiafoe rallied from a set and 5-2 down to win the match, 3-6, 7-5, 6-2. Up against Alexander Zverev in the finals, Tiafoe posed many questions, but did not have quite enough answers, losing, 7-5, 6-4.

This was Tiafoe’s third trip to a final, his one title coming three years ago in Delray Beach.

“You are one of the most talented players,” Zverev said to Tiafoe following the match. “I don’t want you to be just Top 30. I want you in the Top 10. As tennis stands these days, tennis needs you.” (Watch both speeches below.)

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Just over 1,100 miles northeast of Vienna, in St. Petersburg, Fritz reached his sixth ATP singles final. One of Fritz’s four victories there came on his 24th birthday, over close friend Tommy Paul. In the final, Fritz faced 2014 US Open champion Marin Cilic. Over the course of nearly two-and-a-half hours, Fritz held a break point at 3-4 in the third set, but ended up losing, 7-6 (3), 4-6, 6-4.

Last week’s excellent European adventures came on the heels of impressive results generated in September and October in the United States Tiafoe has thrived on making a major splash at big events. Back at the 2017 US Open, while still in his teens, Tiafoe extended Roger Federer to five sets. The 2019 Australian Open marked his first run to a Grand Slam quarterfinal. This year at Wimbledon, Tiafoe upset Tsitsipas in the first round. And at the latest US Open, Tiafoe advanced to the round of 16, an effort capped off by a gritty 4-6, 6-3, 7-6 (6), 4-6, 6-1 over seventh-ranked Andrey Rublev. To beat a man as physically imposing as Rublev that badly in the fifth set says much about Tiafoe’s fitness level.

Fritz, who turned 24 last Thursday, has also had his share of highlights. As early as 2016, at the age of 18, he reached the singles finals in Memphis. There also came Fritz’s lone title, at Eastbourne in 2019. Alas, earlier this year, a freak knee injury during Roland Garros required surgery. Amazingly, Fritz was back in action by Wimbledon.

But arguably the biggest breakthrough of Fritz’s career came in October at the BNP Paribas Open, the Masters 1000 event played in Indian Wells. No doubt feeling comfortable in his native Southern California, Fritz knocked off Matteo Berrettini and Sinner, and rallied from two match points down to beat Zverev in the quarters before losing in the semis to Nikoloz Basilashvili. It was the first time Fritz had gone that far at a Masters 1000 event.

“He’s one of the best competitors I’ve seen and his game has actually evolved and improved,” Fritz’s coach, David Nainkin, said in an atptour.com story. Named as the fifth player to this year’s US Davis Cup team, it will be fascinating to see how Fritz handles that kind of high-stakes situation.

Well, the audience is there for a reason and I can interact with them. Frances Tiafoe

Fritz and Tiafoe manage energy in different ways. Though the 6’ 4” Fritz generates plenty of intensity during points, in between them he is usually quite subdued, a languid quality in some ways reminiscent of another tall, big-serving Southern Californian, Pete Sampras In contrast, the impassioned Tiafoe savors the chance to interact with spectators. Though I’ve always found his manner highly endearing and never rude, in the wake of their Vienna match, Sinner said, “In my opinion Tiafoe, he exaggerated today; he did too much. One thing is when you do the show. The other is when there is no more respect. I don’t know what happened, but today I think it went a little further.”

Tiafoe countered: “Well, the audience is there for a reason and I can interact with them. Jannik had the chance to win the match, then I started playing great tennis and I enjoyed it.”

But don’t get this contretemps confused with the kind of harsh word exchanges seen in the days of Jimmy Connors and John McEnroe. I’ve read several accounts of this interaction and the rancor level did not appear particularly high. In one story, Sinner admitted he had much to learn about how to handle these kind of situations. And, make no mistake, a player is usually only angry when has been beaten or, more pointedly, is aware that the man who defeated him is likely going to be a potential threat for a long time.

It’s clear that Tiafoe and Fritz have effectively organized themselves to compete as effectively as possible. Time was when players who were ranked outside the Top 10 scarcely had the financial resources to afford all it took to maximize their potential. For a long time, a pro’s career was a race between match results, economic pragmatism and physical decline. But between them, Fritz and Tiafoe have collectively already earned more than $10 million in career prize money. They each have first-rate support teams, Fritz aided by Nainkin and Paul Annacone, Tiafoe with Wayne Ferreira.

A wise coach once said that the truly great players can compete terrifically on Sunday, get on a plane and kick more butt on Tuesday. That’s now the case for Fritz and Tiafoe in Paris. Let’s see how each man’s journey continues.