On the Fritz: Taylor downs Rafa in ATP Finals upset

IT did not take long for an ATP Finals boilover with bottom seed Taylor Fritz defeating top seed Rafael Nadal on the opening day of the tournament in Torino. Fritz booked his ticket to the event in Italy after being the first alternative and replacing the injured Carlos Alcaraz. Nadal has to take out the ATP Finals title in order to grab the top spot off his countryman, but his bid already hit a roadbump through the 7-6 6-1 loss to Fritz.

The American is no stranger to causing headaches for the 22-time Grand Slam winner, having defeated him in the Indian Wells final earlier this year, before leading two sets to one at Wimbledon and just falling in five. On this occasion, Fritz overcame a hard-fought first set to really take control in the second and flex his muscles over his more experienced opponent.

Fritz won in an hour and 37 minutes, serving eight aces to one, and only dropping 12 points on serve with an 80 and 78 per cent success rate off his first and second serve points. Though Nadal was dangerous off his first serve – winning 76 per cent of his points off a 71 per cent clip – his second serve dropped right off, winning just eight of 20 points and serving four double faults.

Nadal did save seven break points, but the overwhelming pressure from the Californian eventually won out, with Fritz breaking twice in the second set and really taking control in the first match of the round robin series. Nadal is yet to win an ATP Finals trophy, and now must take out the title in order to grab the year’s end number one ranking spot. Post-match, Fritz said he felt “great”.

“I felt like coming out first match, especially for my hopes of getting out of the group, it was going to be really important,” he said. “I didn’t want to put myself in a position where I needed to win out if I wanted to move on. I came out and played a great match, and I couldn’t be happier.”

Fritz was particularly dominant off his backhand side, and was controlling from his service games which really put him in a controlling position to propel him to victory.

“The court’s definitely fast,” Fritz said. “For me, fast is good for my serve, it’s good for my backhand. I feel like different speeds always have parts that help my game, and parts that hurt my game. On a slower court, I have so much more time to kind of load up on a forehand.

“On a court like this, I can lean into my backhand and hit it deep cross to Rafa’s forehand, and it makes it a but tougher for him to step in and crush it. On a slower surface, he gets time on the forehand when I go backhand cross, and it’s probably done for me. I’d say that’s where it helps me the most on the ground against him.”

In the other Green Group match, Norwegian Casper Ruud took down Canadian Felix Auger-Aliassime in a tight two-setter. Ruud won 7-6 6-4 in an hour and 51 minutes, weathering 14 aces off Auger-Aliassime’s racquet to win 75 and 78 per cent of his own first and second serve points, while breaking the Canadian off the one break point opportunity to secure his first win of the tournament.

“I think this is some of the best levels that I have played since the US Open,” Ruud said post-match. “The last couple of months have been a little bit of a struggle, I have to honestly say that, but you have to accept it as well. You will face difficult moments in your career, and maybe these last couple of months was one of those… It doesn’t matter how hard you practice if you don’t win matches, so today was a great win for me.”

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