Ken Hoffman serves up 10 hard questions for tennis star Taylor Fritz
Tennis star Taylor Fritz is at the top of his game.
The young Californian has cracked the Top 20 in the world rankings. He’s now the top-ranked American player. And he’s the top seed at this week’s inaugural Dallas Open on the Southern Methodist University campus.
Tickets for the ATP's only indoor tournament in America are available at dallasopen.com. Day sessions start at noon, evening matches at 7 p.m. The field also features America’s brightest stars including John Isner, Jack Sock, Reilly Opelka, Brandon Nakashima, Jensen Brooksby and Maxime Cressy.
SportsMap spoke via phone with Fritz, 24, at his home in Los Angeles last week. After warning him to bring his winter coat to Dallas, we served up 10 hard questions that he returned for clean winners.
SportsMap: One year ago today, for the first time in tennis' open era, there were no American players in the Top 30 world rankings. Now you’re leading the resurgence of American tennis with three players in the Top 30. The U.S. has seven players in the Top 50 and 12 in the Top 100 – the most of any country. Was it a goal becoming our country’s No. 1?
Taylor Fritz: Being the No. 1 American has always been a dream of mine. Sometimes I have to stop and think about it. I realize that it’s something I’ve worked my whole life toward, but I want to be ranked a lot higher. I’m happy being the No. 1 American, but I’m not happy being No. 19 in the world. I’d like to see an American at least in the Top 10 soon. I think we’re moving in the right direction.
SportsMap: The Dallas Open will be your first time as a tournament’s No. 1 seed. What does that mean to you?
Fritz: It is good for my confidence. It’s cool, yeah, the first time I’m the top seed at an ATP event. I feel that I’ve played really well the last couple of months. I think I’ve earned being the No. 1 seed and I deserve it.
SportsMap: One difference between being a recreational player and a touring pro, recreational players play tennis when they want to. You practice and play because you have to. What gets you to the practice court on days when you don’t feel like hitting a tennis ball?
Fritz: It’s my motivation and my goals. It’s thinking about all the things that I want to accomplish, all the things I want to achieve. That’s what keeps it exciting for me and gets me through the days I don’t want to play. It’s a journey to become the best player I possibly can be, to see if I can win Grand Slams, to see if I can be the best player in the world. That’s my dream and what drives me.
SportsMap: In most sports, like Olympic events, the difference between the winner and the rest of the competitors is barely a split second. How big is the gap between the top tennis players and others in the Top 50?
Fritz: It comes and goes at different times. I’d say that, on a normal day, Novak Djokovic is a lot better than the rest of the pack. He’s definitely the best. But the margins are very tight among the other top players. The outlier is Rafa Nadal on a clay court.
SportsMap: Who were your tennis heroes when you were a kid?
Fritz: I really didn’t watch a ton of tennis when I was very young, but I did like Pete Sampras and Juan Martin del Potro. Delpo had such a big forehand. I wanted to play like him. If I was on a court and we were pretending to be pro players, I’d probably want to be Roger Federer or Delpo.
SportsMap: You have one of the biggest forehands in the game. Del Potro crushes the ball, too. Who has the hardest groundstrokes in tennis now?
Fritz: I never got to play del Potro. But right now Nikoloz Basilashvili hits the ball really, really hard. I’d say it’s him.
SportsMap: With tennis pros playing well into their 30s, you get to face the players you watched when you were first got into the sport. Is that fun or intimidating?
Fritz: It's a little bit of everything. When I was 18 and playing Roger Federer for the first time, it was like “wow!” I literally grew up watching this guy beat everybody. It’s pretty crazy. It was close in the third set and I thought that I had a chance to win. I think the thought of possibly beating Federer that day is what did me in. I lost the match. But it was an amazing experience. You have to take a step back and remember who these players are and what they mean to tennis.
SportsMap: You once hit a serve 149 miles per hour in an official match. You hit the fastest serve, 147.2 mph, at the U.S. Open in 2020. Those serves went in. How fast could you hit a serve if you didn’t care if it was in or out?
Fritz: 149 mph. When I go for it, that’s the highest speed I can do. I can’t hit it any harder. I pretty much serve for pace. If it goes in, it goes in. I’m not holding back.
SportsMap: Fans enjoy watching you hit the ball insanely hard and flying around the court. When you play a match, are you thinking about entertaining the crowd?
Fritz: Not at all. I play the game to win. I’m glad that some people find it entertaining. I do think it would bother me a little bit if I had a boring game to watch, though. But at the end of the day, I’m just out there to win. I’m not thinking of anything else like entertainment value. I’m competing to the best of my ability. I am fortunate that some people like watching me play.
SportsMap: Tennis may be the only sport where coaching isn’t allowed during play. Players can be penalized if their coach is caught offering instruction. Women’s tennis now allows coaching during court changes. Do you think it’s time for the men’s game to follow suit?
Fritz: I think coaching absolutely should not be allowed. I couldn't be more against coaching on court. Tennis is an individual sport that’s very, very tactical. A huge part of tennis is figuring out, your opponent and understanding what he’s doing and what you need to do to combat it. It's not fair bringing another person into the match to help. You should never have outside help. It's the mental side of competing and that’s a critical part of the sport.