Sports Talk: Fritz doesn’t fizzle at BNP Paribas Open

Maybe it really just was a desert mirage.

Even though greatness had been predicted for Taylor Fritz since winning a CIF tennis title as a Torrey Pines High freshman.

The road from Del Mar to Indian Wells, though, wasn’t a smooth one for Fritz. But for one shining moment on a perfect desert night, Fritz was on top of the world.

“This is like a dream,” Fritz said.

Fritz defeated Fernando Verdasco in 4-6, 6-2, 7-6 (1), at the prestigious BNP Paribas Open in Coachella Valley on Monday.

He was cheered by a crowd — many being family and friends — that backed him when he fell behind against the cagey Verdasco. Truth is there was one kid way up in the seats who shouted, “Let’s Go Taylor” whenever things looked scratchy.

By the end of the match about 10,000 fans were following that kid’s lead and this was how it was supposed to be for the 6-foot-4, 185-pound Fritz.

Fritz, with a huge serve and heavy forehand, was going to tackle pro tennis and off he would go. After a stellar junior career and a quick start in his quest of playing for dollars, Fritz was money in the bank.

In just his third ATP event, he reached the finals — the second-fastest male to do so. But then a sport that baffles the best, served a dose of humble pie to the righty with a big serve.

Fritz fizzled the last 16 months or so leading to this season, which led him to playing on the ATP Challenger Tour.

The one-time, can’t-miss did just that and has had to fight his way back. He did so by going 14-3 in the Challenger circuit, which included a recent win in Newport Beach. That prepared him for Monday, when he didn’t wilt after squandering two match points to catapult into the Round of 16.

“I know I have had it in myself for a long time,” Fritz said. “So it means a lot to me, especially after doing so well in 2016 and having a bit of an off end of 2016 and 2017 with a lot of people — a lot of people saying that I’m done. That I wasn’t going to do it or I don’t have it.”

Instead of being washed up, Fritz rolled up his sleeves. He played smarter by not forcing his lethal forehand at inopportune moments. He played with calmness. He played with a fortitude that showed in his BNP Paribas opening-round win when he survived a match point.

The haters are going to hate, but Fritz is loving his game.

“So it feels really good to prove people wrong,” the Rancho Santa Fe native said. “And do what I know I have been able to do this whole time and to finally do it.”

Maybe the success means more to Fritz, now married and with a son, Jordan, after his game hit the skids. He went from being ranked No. 53 in 2016 to starting this year outside the top 100. But winning at Newport Beach in the Challenger Tour — his first tournament title in two years — seemed to provide a spark. When lifting a trophy in tennis’ minor leagues, it removed a load from his shoulders.

“The Newport Beach challenger gave me a lot of confidence that I needed,” said Fritz, ranked No. 77. “It’s my first title in a very long time. The confidence you get from winning a tournament is huge, especially for me.”

Fritz was back in his own mind and he’s learned that’s the only mind that matters.

“I think confidence is everything,” he said. “I think it’s something that’s very underrated in tennis.”

Contact Jay Paris at jparis8@aol.com. Follow him on Twitter at jparis_sports.

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