Taylor Fritz will always look back on his week in Tokyo with amazement as he never through he could win the Rakuten Japan Open having spent the previous week in Seoul ensconced in an hotel room quarantining for Covid!
I came here confident that I could win a round or two and then see how it goes, Taylor Fritz
But he did just that in an All-American final defeating his friend Frances Tiafoe in straight sets to become the first player from the US to win the title since Pete Sampras in 1996.
And he did it in style with two tie-break sets against a player who has established himself as King of the Tie-breaks having won 13 of them on the trot!
Following his 7-6(3) 7-6(2) victory, Fritz declared it had been a ‘crazy’ week.
“I came here confident that I could win a round or two and then see how it goes,” Fritz said. “I felt like if I could get through my first two matches, then I would probably be playing good enough tennis. So I think that was the real question mark, was those first two matches (versus Australia’s James Duckworth and Japan’s Hiroki Moriya). But I honestly had a lot of confidence that I was going to win those.
“It’s really crazy that I went from being in quarantine, having to fly here, and then winning the tournament. It’s definitely something that I didn’t expect.”
Fritz’s serve was key, especially in the tiebreaks where he was pin-point accurate with his first serves.
“Both tiebreaks, I don’t think I missed a first serve, which is a huge key, coming up with it in the big moments,” Fritz admitted. “I felt extremely calm and I felt like I had a lot of clarity in making decisions on the court. For playing such a big match in a final, that’s huge to not be nervous and feel very calm and locked in.”
The title was Fritz’s fourth of his career in nine finals, and he now leads Tiafoe 5-1 in their personal head-to-heads. It was also the third time Tiafoe has lost to Fritz this season!
In addition, Fritz has won all three finals he’s been in this season while Tiafoe, who was seeking a second career title, has lost his last four finals.
“He just played well. He played the big points well, played really aggressive,” Tiafoe said following his loss. “I wasn’t as aggressive as I was the last couple of matches. He played really aggressive, didn’t really miss when it mattered. He just played the bigger points a little better than I did today. It was a tight match, and I didn’t play the breakers well enough. Pretty simple.”
Fritz will see his ranking climb to a new career-high No. 8 and is now very much in contention for a place in the season-ending ATP Finals in Turin.
There is some consultation for Tiafoe who will rise to a career-high of No.17.
“Congrats to my guy Taylor on cracking the top 10 and winning this event,” Tiafoe said during the trophy ceremony, adding: “I’m fed up with losing to you but hopefully we have many more battles.”
Fritz was equally laudatory pointing out his friend’s achievements including victories over Rafael Nadal (US Open) and Stefanos Tsitsipas (Laver Cup) in recent weeks.
“He’s been on fire recently and I had to play my best to beat him today. We have spent a lot of time together the last couple of weeks and he is one of my close friends,” Fritz commented.
“I’m sure that this is not going to be the last time we play for a big title. It is always fun battling with him.”