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With his mom—two-time US Open champ Tracy Austin—watching, qualifier Brandon Holt stuns American favorite Taylor Fritz
There were many twists to the match that were in play even before each competitor was born.
Published Aug 30, 2022
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NEW YORK—The saying goes that the Battle of Waterloo was won on the playing fields of Eton. For 24-year-old American Brandon Holt, the more accurate notion is that for this poised qualifier, his first Grand Slam match was won on the playing fields of Cancun, Mexico.
Currently ranked 303rd in the world, Holt upset 10th-seeded Taylor Fritz, 6-7 (3), 7-6 (1), 6-3, 6-4. Over the course of 3:05 on the Grandstand, Holt struck 41 winners and, most notably, never lost his composure amid the natural pressures of competing in a main-draw match at a major for the first time.
Head back to January, when Holt was ranked 924th. Having only recently recovered from surgery for a hand injury that threatened to end his career, Holt headed south from his home outside of Los Angeles to compete in Cancun. There, over three consecutive weeks, he won three straight ITF events (each time earning $2,160) and began to inch back up the ranks. There came many other more match wins this year—including treks to England, Ecuador and an encore title run in Cancun in May—but in large part, Holt’s surge had kicked off with those 15 straight match wins.
“I basically had to start from scratch down there,” said Holt. “I did well my first three tournaments back. I won all three of them in a row after a long time off, a lot of hard work recovering. Yeah, from there to here has been a very quick upward tick.”
Holt’s reward for winning three matches in the qualifying (after receiving a wild card to enter) was to play Fritz, the top-ranked American who, at his most recent major, Wimbledon, had gone all the way to the quarterfinals before losing to Rafael Nadal in a fifth-set tiebreaker.
There were many twists to the Fritz-Holt match that were in play even before each competitor was born. Holt’s mother, Tracy Austin, is a Hall of Famer who won two US Open singles titles. Fritz’s mother, Kathy May, had been a Top 10 player. Austin and May had practiced together often and even twice partnered at the US Open. Brandon and Taylor competed versus one another all through the juniors and have continued to practice together at the USTA practice facility in Carson.
Familiarity cut two ways tonight. According to the favored Fritz, “It definitely makes it a lot tougher, the facts that we know each other so well, practice with each other a lot. It's a big neutralizer, for sure. I probably would have preferred any of the other qualifiers, even though he was probably the lowest-ranked one. I think just to play someone like that, that you've known forever, it definitely makes the match a lot harder.”
What vexed Fritz comforted Holt.
“Yeah, I was happy to be playing with him,” said Holt. “I've known him a long time. More than anything I think he's been almost like someone I can look up to. He works really hard, has been doing really well, and is not shy to give advice and help me out when I wasn't doing very well.”
From the start, Holt was able to smoothly and repeatedly field Fritz’s powerful drives. In the first set, Holt took a 4-1 lead and served for the set at 5-3, 30-love. But a mishit forehand off a short Fritz return cost Holt the chance to earn triple set point. And though he later held a set point in that game, and another two in the next game, Holt was unable to grab the early lead an underdog often requires. Fritz fought well to win the first set tiebreaker, aided by a superb crosscourt backhand passing shot winner at 5-3.
I feel like an idiot for thinking that I could win this thing, win the US Open. It sucks. I feel awful. Taylor Fritz
But that effort hardly helped Fritz bounce forward. One intruder was a swirling wind, an X-factor that in theory should be equally troubling. But from nearly the first point of the match, it clearly bothered Fritz more.
“Yeah, I just didn't have that confidence kind of when I was taking a cut, being aggressive, that it was just going to feel good,” said Fritz. “A lot of that was because of how windy it was.”
Again and again, Holt held his own in rallies. Serving at 5-6 in the second set, he fought off two set points, one with a 115-m.p.h. wide ace into the ad court, the second with a swift dash forward and an overhead winner. With the two in another tiebreaker, tied at 1-1, Holt snapped off six straight points, along the way striking a crisp volley, a 114-m.p.h. ace and, at set point, a crosscourt forehand winner.
The match now levelled, Holt broke Fritz early in each of the next two sets. All through this time, he remained positive and focused, his feet moving, his shot selection appropriate, his focus unwavering. If this sounds similar to how Holt’s mother competed, so be it.
Meanwhile, Fritz appeared lethargic, lacking the conviction that has greatly aided his ascent.
“Towards the end when I started to get some better timing, it was dark,” he said. “It just felt heavy out there. I really felt like I was trying to put a lot into the ball and it just wasn't really going anywhere.”
Fritz had been considered one of the players with the potential to have a deep run—before his Wimbledon run, he won his first Masters title this season at Indian Wells.
Instead, he exited on the opening day.
"I feel like an idiot for thinking that I could win this thing, win the US Open. It sucks. I feel awful," said Fritz. "To be honest, a lot of times in a match like this I can get away with playing like that. A lot of credit to Brandon. He played a lot of really good points."
The distance from New York City to Cancun is more than 3,300 miles. But for at least a moment tonight, it was front and center for Holt. When I asked him what he’d said in January if someone had told him he’d this year beat the tenth seed at the US Open, Holt said, “I don't know. I'd probably call them crazy. I have no idea. It's been a roller coaster ride. It's been fun. I'm so happy. I'm thrilled to be here.
“To be in the second round is absolutely amazing. Such a big win, the biggest win of my career by far.”
Additional reporting from Kamakshi Tandon