The world saw firsthand the heartbreak Taylor Fritz experienced at last year’s US Open. The American No. 1 allowed Netflix’s cameras inside his circle throughout the process of his surprising defeat to World No. 303 Brandon Holt in the first round for the filming of Break Point.
Fritz’s coach, Michael Russell, helped explain what led to the upset and how Team Fritz has learned from the experience.
“There were a lot of different dynamics at play. I think Taylor was here too long prior to the tournament. Seven days of preparation sometimes can create a little bit of burnout leading up to it,” Russell told ATPTour.com. “And then he just put way too much expectation and pressure on himself. You’re always going to have that pressure as the No. 1 American coming into your home Slam, but he really felt like, basically, he should win the tournament coming in.
“You want to have that confidence and that belief, but at the same time, there are 128 guys. They have to win seven matches in order to win a tournament, and there are a lot of exceptional players in that field. So combine that with the fact that you’re playing a fellow American that you grew up with, who knows your game so well, all those pressures, and he just didn’t manage it as well as he could have.”
Russell clearly credited Holt, saying the Californian “played an exceptional match”. The former No. 60 player in the Pepperstone ATP Rankings tried to take positives from the experience and adapted Fritz’s preparation for this year’s US Open.
“This year, we arrived Tuesday evening, Taylor was able to go back to Miami, where he has a place, for four days, which just really helps mentally and emotionally get ready and just a little bit of a break after a four-week stretch of playing the US Open Series of hard-court tournaments,” Russell said. “Then we actually increased the volume in the three days of practice here to imitate a little more of that three-out-of-five-set match play. And then we shut it down Saturday before the tournament started.”
Fritz’s “extracurricular commitments” — media, for example — have been minimal and the full focus has been on his tennis.
“Not to say that he’s not doing any of those,” Russell said. “But it’s managed much better from a time perspective and I think that’s really helped him physically, mentally, and emotionally deal with the pressure that’s always going to be there.”
This year, Fritz went from an early New York exit to a dominant first-week performance. The home favourite lost a combined 13 games in his first three matches against Steve Johnson, Juan Pablo Varillas and Jakub Mensik, before also dismissing Dominic Stricker in straight sets.
“You’re always going to be nervous, it’s normal. It’s part of sport. When you walk into competition, there’s always that unpredictability of what’s going to happen, but at the same time, it’s having the confidence, it’s having the belief in yourself. And then also, the preparation creates that confidence,” Russell said. “This year, the preparation was better. Of course, we have a lot of talks about staying relaxed, about staying confident. It’s very cliche, but controlling the controllables.
“You can’t worry about what other things are happening with other players, what the points are, what the money is. Literally just focussing on the ball, focussing on the court. It’s the same ball, it’s the same court for everyone. The lines are the same dimensions everywhere you go.”
Fritz will try to keep that in mind when he steps onto the court inside Arthur Ashe Stadium on Tuesday for his quarter-final against 23-time major winner Novak Djokovic. The Serbian leads their Lexus ATP Head2Head 7-0.
“You can only control what you can do. So if your opponent is going for records or your opponent’s won this many tournaments and this many Slams, that’s great, that’s exceptional, and that’s for him,” Russell said. “But at the end of the day, tomorrow, when you guys both wake up, you’re walking out on that same court, and you’re trying to win the last point. So I think it’s ‘What can I do to win that last point? How do I make my opponent as uncomfortable as possible? How do I create that adversity?’
“For Taylor, that’s what the game plan is and what can he do game plan wise that can make Novak uncomfortable?”
The 2022 Nitto ATP Finals semi-finalist accomplished that against Djokovic in Turin last year. The eventual champion won in two tie-breaks, but Fritz served for the second set.
“That was some of the best tennis I’ve seen Taylor play and Novak was flustered,” Russell said. “I think if Taylor would have won that second set, it would have been a very interesting third set because that was some of the best tennis I’ve seen.”
Regardless of past results, Russell wants his charge to “play free” and “play relaxed” as he tries to make the US Open semi-finals for the first time.
“Enjoy it, get the crowd involved. The American crowd playing in the US Open, Ashe Stadium. No. 1 American against arguably the greatest player of all time,” Russell said. “I want you to enjoy the experience and look like you’re enjoying the experience. Go out and show a lot of positive emotion, a lot of spring in your step and just, take it all in and have fun.”
Source: ATP Tour