Taylor Fritz enters the Citi Open as America’s top men’s tennis player

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Taylor Fritz arrives at the Citi Open in the busiest year of his burgeoning career.

The Rancho Santa Fe, Calif., native defeated Rafael Nadal in straight sets in the Indian Wells final in March to win his first Masters 1000 title. He also reached the fourth round of the Australian Open and the quarterfinals of Wimbledon, he lost to Nadal in a tiebreak in the fifth set.

A tournament victory and a narrow Grand Slam loss to arguably the greatest player of all time are seemingly huge achievements for the 24-year-old American with just two ATP titles under his belt. Since Andy Roddick was the last American to win a Grand Slam in 2003, it’s become a bit of a cliché on the tour: Do you think having great young Americans on tour will help grow tennis in the United States?

But when Fritz, the highest-ranked of these young Americans at No. 13 in the world, faced a version of that question during his first day of practice at Rock Creek Park Tennis Center, he deviated from the standard answer: He just wants to win.

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“I think maybe,” said Fritz, who will start Wednesday against Alexei Popyrin. “But it’s a big problem for me more for a personal goal, for sure. All my life I wanted to be a top 10 player, you know? So I think they’re definitely more personal goals.”

Fritz is aware of the increased attention his success brings to American tennis. American sports fans are used to being “the best at everything,” he said, so his efforts to break into the top 10 and win a Grand Slam will ultimately help draw Americans to the sport, just as the Williams sisters and other great players have done on the women’s side for years. His quarter-final loss to Nadal at Wimbledon was a prime example.

“So many people who aren’t tennis fans were watching it, watching an American they probably never heard of play the Nadal they heard of,” he said. “That’s the kind of match that gets a lot of fans in the US”

But no matter how much the match affected the wider landscape of American tennis, it didn’t change the fact that Fritz was devastated after the loss. His eyes didn’t sparkle with patriotism as he walked off the court at the All England Club, nor did he check Twitter to see how many live updates competition received.

He had just lost a match-winner against an all-time great, missing a chance in his first career Grand Slam semi-final.

“If I stopped now, I’d be pretty upset with my career,” he said. “I still have a lot of improvement ahead of me and I feel like I’m going to become a lot better as a player.”

It’s one of the reasons why Fritz wanted to play at the Citi Open despite an injury – a stress fracture in his left leg suffered during the French Open that plagued him during his Wimbledon. He knows that the more winning tennis he plays, the higher his ranking will climb.

Fritz, like his compatriots in the top 50, knows that winning draws attention to the sport. But attention is not their motive – size is. These young Americans – Fritz, Reilly Opelka, Tommy Paul, Frances Tiafoe and others – are friends with each other, but they are very competitive when they play against each other.

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Their mission is not to be the best American—but to be the best. To Fritz, “Highest Placed American” feels like a participation trophy. It was hard-fought for sure, but breaking into the top 10 and winning a Grand Slam are bigger prizes and you have to beat more than the Americans on those trips.

“I don’t make a living from colic.” [Americans] we’re in the top 50 — it’s an individual international sport,” Opelka said. “I mean, it’s nice to have them around just to be with… [but] doesn’t push me more than [Daniil Medvedev] or [Stefanos Tsitsipas] or one of those guys. It’s the same.”

While Fritz does not aim to be the savior of American tennis, he is making himself more accessible. He streams while playing video games like “Apex Legends” and “Fall Guys” on Twitch to engage with his fan base. In 2019, he tweeted on “SportsCenter” and called attention to the ESPN flagship show about the lack of expertise in tennis in an effort to provide Americans with a better knowledge of the sport.

He also agreed to perform new Netflix series which follows a year in the lives of the ATP and WTA’s most high-profile players, much like the hit “Formula 1: Drive to Survive,” which helped expand the circuit’s fan base in the United States and endeared the drivers to viewers. .

“These cameras are always on me. Maybe I come off as cocky, but it’s in a very funny way,” Fritz said of his experience. “And I really didn’t hold anything back on camera. I try to be myself as much as possible.”

But for Fritz, TV cameras, tweets and Twitch streams take a back seat when it’s time to become a tennis player. All the engagements in the world won’t get him into the top 10 or give him a Grand Slam title. Only his hard work and drive can do that.

Fritz’s career so far is not enough for him. He wants to be the best, and if US tennis comes with him, so be it.

“As a kid I would have thought it was crazy, so it’s really cool when you step back and think about it,” he reflected. “But I still have so much more to do.

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