03:00 AM GMT March 11, 2018
The first of many? Fans who had the opportunity to see #NextGenATP players Andrey Rublev and Taylor Fritz battle at the BNP Paribas Open on Saturday will certainly hope so.
The 20-year-olds entertained the crowd with more than 90 minutes of heavyweight hitting and plenty of plot turns. The second-round match on Stadium Court 2 featured 50 winners (28, Fritz; 22, Rublev) and seven breaks of serve.
In the end, the home favourite Fritz reached the third round in Indian Wells for the second consecutive year 6-4, 7-6(4). The #NextGenATP California native was broken in the ninth game in the second set. But Fritz broke right back and, in the tie-break, clinched his second match point with an aggressive backhand service return winner.
“We're very familiar with each other's games... All of our matches are always close, back in the juniors,” Fritz said. “There is a lot of big hitting, but I feel like I got a lot of momentum and played really well in a lot of the big moments of the match.
“If anyone was at the match, they could see how much the crowd helped me. I got to play with a lot of emotions and heart just because the crowd was pumping me up so much. They were cheering so heavily in my favour, and it really got me excited, pumped up. And not to mention as well I've played so many tournaments as a kid here. I'm just so used to the courts here. I just feel comfortable.”
The 6'4” right-hander will next meet Spain's Fernando Verdasco, who beat third seed Grigor Dimitrov 7-6(4), 4-6, 6-3. Fritz, who lives less than three hours from Indian Wells, was a shot away from being eliminated during his first-round match. He had to save a match point in the second set against close friend and fellow #NextGenATP American Reilly Opelka.
The 20-year-old American, in addition to one of his regular coaches David Nainkin, is also being assisted in Indian Wells by Paul Annacone, who has coached Pete Sampras, Roger Federer and Tim Henman during his well-known career. The two started working together earlier this year.
“I know he's not very quick to start coaching players... So I think to have him working with me, it does show that he, at least I like to think, that he sees something special,” Fritz said. “He said it when we first started trying it out, he was only going to work with me if he thought he could help me. And I think how I have started this year is a lot of proof that what we have been working on has been helping, and I have been improving a lot with him.”
Last year, Fritz celebrated his first Top 10 win against then-No. 7 Marin Cilic to make the Round of 32 (l. to Jaziri) in the California desert. He has never reached past the third round at an ATP World Tour Masters 1000 event.
He and Rublev might meet later this year on another big stage: the 2018 Next Gen ATP Finals in Milan. Fritz is in fourth and Rublev leads the ATP Race To Milan, which will determine seven of the eight players who compete at the 21-and-under event.