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By Joel Drucker Nov 03, 2021
INTERVIEW: Catching up with Taylor Fritz after he reached the quarterfinals

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Taylor Fritz could have let himself believe that it was all slipping away.

A few minutes earlier, he had been up 0-30 on Cam Norrie’s serve at 4-4 in the second set. Two more points, and the American would have been serving for the match, and a quarterfinal spot at the Rolex Paris Masters. Instead, Fritz let Norrie wriggle free and hold. Then he let him reach 15-40, double set point, at 4-5. Norrie has made a specialty of coaxing his opponents into imploding this season, and it looked like Fritz was about to be his next victim.

Fritz saved one of those set points with a service winner. But on the second, Norrie put his return in play. Faced with a forehand he could drive, Fritz didn’t hesitate; he powered it crosscourt for a winner to reach deuce, and, with his confidence renewed, kept powering his way to a 6-3, 7-6 (3) win.

“I really felt confident going after my forehand,” Fritz told Tennis Channel afterward. “Set point, a lot of times in the past couple years I would not have pulled the trigger like that on the forehand.

“I’m not playing scared. I’m going after the ball.”

“I really felt confident going after my forehand,” Fritz said after his impressive, straight-sets win.

“I really felt confident going after my forehand,” Fritz said after his impressive, straight-sets win.

According to Fritz, his newfound sense of fearlessness is the biggest factor in his current late-season surge. Since the US Open, the 24-year-old has reached the semifinals in Indian Wells, the final in St. Petersburg, and now the quarters in Paris-Bercy. And he has done it against strong competition. In Indian Wells, Fritz recorded wins over three straight Top 10 opponents, Matteo Berrettini, Jannik Sinner and Alexander Zverev. This week he has knocked off another Top Tenner, Andrey Rublev, and the 11th-ranked Norrie, who was vying for a spot at the ATP Finals.

For Fritz, the difference between beating and not beating a player like Norrie is very simple.

“The times I lose to Cam, I can’t put the ball away on him,” said Fritz, who is now 4-4 against the Brit. “The times I’m able to beat Cam, I’m very aggressive, I’m able to hit my forehand well, feeling like I’m able to finish points.”

Another key to Fritz’s success of late, and in particular today, has been his situational play. He’s finding ways to use his serve-forehand combination to dig himself out of tough, potentially match-changing moments.

“I did a good job of saving myself in a lot of service games when I was down 0-15, 15-30,” Fritz said. He also did a good job of playing defense when needed to, and giving the steady Norrie a taste of his own medicine by getting a lot of balls back in play.

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With the win, Fritz is all but guaranteed that he’ll finish 2021 as the No. 1-ranked American; with the points he's earned this week, he's assured of passing current No. 23 John Isner for the distinction. He also came closer to his goal of finishing the season in the Top 20. He seems to have found a way to shore up his previous weaknesses (defense) while also learning to max out his strengths (setting up rallies for his forehand). These days, most of his matches, even against top players, are on his racquet.

But Fritz also knows that more will be expected of a top-ranked American in the months head. Right now he sounds motivated, rather than overwhelmed or annoyed, by that.

“It’s No. 1 American,” he said of his ranking, “but we have a rich history of Americans being ranked higher than 20.

“I hope I can keep improving.”

As good as Fritz’s performance was today, he may have to improve on it when he faces Novak Djokovic on Friday. Fritz began the way year by taking Djokovic to a fifth set in Australia. Can he take him one step farther, and get a win, to close out his year?

“I’m playing my best tennis ever,” Fritz said. “I think I can push him.”