For California boy Taylor Fritz there’s something to be said about home court advantage. Fritz, a rising star on the ATP Tour, has had the opportunity to play all over the world. He has played on the iconic grass courts of Wimbledon, the famous red clay of Rolland Garros, the blue hard courts of Meblourne and everywhere in between. But, as Dorthy said, there’s no place like home. “It’s the best,” Fritz said with a smile. “I always play my best tennis in California.”
Fritz, who’s plane from Melbourne touched down just a couple of days before he took the court at Newport Beach Tennis Club, was admittedly a bit jet lagged and out of sorts to start the week. Adjusting to Santa Ana winds, different courts and different balls took a couple of sets. But, once he hit his stride and felt more confident in the southern California conditions, Fritz was able to enjoy his week playing under the California sun and found himself in a familiar spot: playing in the finals on Court 1 at the Newport Beach Tennis Club to defend his title, surrounded by familiar faces. “I had all of my friends from school here, my whole family, my mom, my dad, my wife, my son – everyone came out.”
His opponent, Canadian Brayden Schnur, has seen great success himself in Newport Beach this week, including a third round win over number 2 seed Mackenzie McDonald. Young men of almost identical 6’4″ statures, Fritz knew that Brayden would be a tough match and it would likely come down to their serve games. “I told myself, it doesn’t really matter how well he serves, if I just focus on my serve and I don’t get broken,” said Fritz. “I feel really confident in tiebreakers so I told myself, ‘make him beat me in tiebreakers, worst case scenario.'” It came to a tiebreak in the first set, but Fritz was able to steal a break and hold his serve through the rest of the match. In the end, it was Fritz’s serve that got him through the tough moments and he managed to fire off an impressive 16 aces against Schnur to win the match 7-6(7), 6-4.
The two-time Oracle Challenger Series Newport Beach champion has more to celebrate, a career-high ranking of World No. 40. “It’s really important for me to start the year strong,” explained Fritz, who hopes to be in the top 20 by the end of the year. “I usually slow down a bit when the Europe swing comes around so I need to get as much of a lead on other people in the race as I can going into that season.”
This victory places Fritz at the top of the Road to Indian Wells leaderboard, next to Oracle Challenger Series Houston champion Bradley Klahn. Though, since neither Fritz nor Klahn, who both earned spots at the BNP Paribas Open based on their rankings, are in need of a wild card, that leaves the men’s race wide open. The Oracle Challenger Series Indian Wells, which kicks off next month, leaves the coveted wild cards up for the taking. “It’s a big opportunity to get a chance on the big stage for these guys who aren’t ranked as high,” said Fritz. “It’s awesome that Oracle provides these opportunities for Americans.”