EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW

Ken Hoffman serves up 10 hard questions for tennis star Taylor Fritz

Ken Hoffman serves up 10 hard questions for tennis star Taylor Fritz
SportsMap caught up with Fritz last week.Photo by Quinn Rooney/Getty Images.

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.

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Astros defeat the A's, 6-3. Photo by Richard Rodriguez/Getty Images.

Jake Meyers hit a three-run homer to highlight Houston's six-run fourth inning that backed Justin Verlander's winning start, and the Astros beat the Oakland Athletics 6-3 on Friday night.

Verlander (3-2) struck out nine over six innings to increase hit total to 3,377, passing Hall of Famer Greg Maddux (3,371) for 10th on the career strikeouts list. He gave up two runs — one earned — on eight hits and didn't walk a batter for a second straight start and seventh time this year.

After another milestone to add to a long list of them, Verlander wasn't sure exactly how to feel.

“I feel like I should be more excited but I feel like I’m a little more introspective and reflective,” Verlander said. “A lot of sacrifices you make in this game, a lot of time away from the family, but I love it, so it’s pretty amazing. I don’t know if as a 21- or 22-year-old kid in professional baseball if I’d thought I’d be in the top-10 in anything. This sport’s been around for so long. Hard to put into words, but a lot of thoughts, a lot of thoughts went through my mind.”

When his teammates celebrated him once the special outing had ended, Verlander allowed himself to ponder the meaning.

Verlander remembers his first strikeout and he recalls one against Hall of Fame slugger Frank Thomas here at the Coliseum — and the pitcher wears No. 35 because of Thomas.

“I have a lot of great memories here,” he said.

A's manager Mark Kotsay, a former Oakland outfielder, has been witness to some of those.

“He’s just tough. He’s a Hall of Fame pitcher. He knows his game plan and he executes it really well," Kotsay said. "He doesn’t make a ton of mistakes.”

Yordan Alvarez added an RBI double and Josh Hader finished the 2-hour, 31-minute game with his seventh save for the Astros, who began a seven-game road trip.

After right-hander Ross Stripling (1-9) retired the first nine Houston hitters in order, Jose Altuve singled to start the fourth for the first of four straight hits that included Alex Bregman's two-run single.

The A's drew an announced crowd of 9,676 for the series opener after winning two of three against Colorado following an eight-game losing streak.

Miguel Andujar came off the injured list and immediately hit an RBI single in the first off Verlander and finished with three hits in his A's and season debut — including another run-scoring single in the seventh.

Andjuar's RBI marked the first time the A's have scored first in 18 games — ending the longest streak in franchise history. Batting cleanup, he also singled in the third.

Astros left fielder Chas McCormick robbed Max Schuemann of an extra-base hit when he crashed into the wall to make a great catch ending the eighth.

“That was a big play at the moment,” manager Joe Espada said.

TRAINER’S ROOM

Astros: RHP José Urquidy was pulled from his rehab start with Triple-A Sugar Land because of right forearm discomfort. He has been on the injured list with inflammation in his pitching shoulder. ... 1B José Abreu is scheduled to rejoin the club Monday in Seattle after playing at least two games with Triple-A Sugar Land as he works to regain his hitting rhythm.

Athletics: Andujar had been sidelined all season after having meniscus surgery on his right knee. He was claimed off waivers from the Pirates on Nov. 6. Oakland created roster room by optioning INF Brett Harris to Triple-A Las Vegas.

UP NEXT

RHP Spencer Arrighetti (2-4, 7.16 ERA) pitches for the Astros in the middle game opposite A's LHP JP Sears (3-3, 4.31).

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