Australian Open: Improving Taylor Fritz runs into the wall called Novak Djokovic | Tennis News - Hindustan Times
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Australian Open 2024: Improving Taylor Fritz runs into the wall called Novak Djokovic

By, New Delhi
Jan 22, 2024 07:05 PM IST

The American beat World No.7 Tsitsipas to reach his first Australian Open quarterfinal but awaiting him there is the best player in the world

Almost every American male player has a constant companion long before they make it big on the world stage — hype. The US media is quick to talk them up — they have all the shots, the style, the NCAA success but somehow the men have failed to win a Grand Slam for more than 20 years now.

Taylor Fritz of the U.S. celebrates after defeating Stefanos Tsitsipas of Greece in their fourth round match at the Australian Open tennis championships at Melbourne Park, Melbourne, Australia, Sunday, Jan. 21(AP)
Taylor Fritz of the U.S. celebrates after defeating Stefanos Tsitsipas of Greece in their fourth round match at the Australian Open tennis championships at Melbourne Park, Melbourne, Australia, Sunday, Jan. 21(AP)

Perhaps, they are still lacking something. Perhaps, they are lacking a lot of things. Either way, Taylor Fritz will hope to find the missing piece when he takes on the imperious Novak Djokovic in the quarterfinal of the Australian Open.

If Fritz can reproduce the kind of tennis he played to knock out World No.7 Stefano Tsitsipas on Sunday, one dare say he may even have a chance. The American made it to his first Australian Open quarterfinal with a 7-6(3), 5-7, 6-3, 6-3 win, his maiden win against a Top-10 player at a Major.

"I trusted my shots a lot. I served well the whole match," Fritz said. "It kept me in it as there were some games he was in that I could get out of with my serve. At the end when I really needed it, I turned it up a level and played my absolute best tennis to finish it."

The thing that stood out throughout the match was the high level that Fritz was able to maintain. The numbers speak for themselves: 50 winners to 19 unforced errors, 13 aces and winning 86 per cent (68/79) of his first-serve points to advance after three hours and one minute.

Tsitsipas fought hard but when your opponent is playing with this level of consistency, it is hard to stay the course. Beating the top players in a Grand Slam has been a major stumbling block for Fritz in the past, and coming into the match he had a 0-11 record against Top-11 players at Majors. But something has clicked into place for the 26-year-old.

That change is apparent in his record too. While he would struggle to maintain an even win-loss record in the past, his growing maturity has seen him step up on that front as well. In 2021, he improved to 34-22 (W/L record), 46-21 in 2022 and 54-23 in 2023.

In the early days, Fritz was all about the serve and forehand but a better understanding of his game has seen him steadily climb the ranks to make back-to-back quarterfinals at a Major for the first time.

Up next

While the Fritz-Tsitsipas had many shots that would make the highlights reel, the standout memory of the Djokovic versus Adrian Mannarino match was the Frenchman laughing hysterically after losing the first two sets 6-0, 6-0.

He put up two 0s around his eyes and just laughed before the start of the third set. It was all he could do as the 36-year-old Djokovic surged past him to win 6-0, 6-0, 6-3 in just one hour and 44 minutes.

“The first two sets (were some) of the best sets I’ve played in a while,” said the 10-time AO champion after the match and he wasn’t wrong.

By reaching the last eight at the Australian Open for the 14th time, the world No.1 secured his 58th Grand Slam quarterfinal appearance to equal Roger Federer’s record.

A different match-up

Djokovic leads 8-0 against Fritz, with the American running him close just once — at the Australian Open 2021 when they played out a five-setter in the Round of 32.

So, if anything, Fritz – and almost every other player on the planet – will feel the pressure. But the American hopes he can keep up his level.

“I think a lot of these match-ups are when I was younger,” said Fritz in the on-court interview. “Since I have improved and become a better player, the times I have played him since I just haven’t brought my best level and you need to if you are going to compete with someone like Novak. I am going to have to serve like I did today but I feel confident that if I am able to play like I did today, I will have a chance.”

That chance may also depend on the kind of mood the world No.1 Serb will be in. Djokovic finds a way to make things awkward for his opponents and much of that can depend on how motivated he is on the day.

“I always look for the best performance from myself … when it doesn't happen, I'm frustrated,” said the Serb during the on-court interview. “The fire is still burning … that's what allowed me to be where I am and achieve the things that I have achieved.

He added: “I love the thrill of facing a break point or having a break point, just those kind of emotions are still awakening something that is very deep. Winning Majors, breaking records and being at the top of the game is something that is always an objective and a goal.”

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