Fritz ready for Indian Wells title defense: 'I'm a much improved player'
Taylor Fritz felt a little extra love this year as he drove in to his home tournament. One year after winning the biggest title of his career at Indian Wells, the Southern California native returned to the BNP Paribas Open as the defending champion and a newly minted member of the ATP's Top 5.
"It's awesome, just driving in a couple of days ago," Fritz said of his affection for the venue known as Tennis Paradise, speaking to the press during Wednesday's media day. "I guess it's the same as always, because I always love coming here. It's always a great feeling. Especially after last year, just so many good memories. Always good to be back."
Rather than stressing out about defending his title and the 1,000 ATP rankings points that came with it, Fritz is excited to return to the site of his biggest triumph.
"I think just being here, I have a sense of confidence knowing that I play well here. I was just excited when I got here, excited to just get on the practice court, start feeling it again, get that feeling that I'm playing good and confident, kind of just ready to go.
"I think this would have been a really stressful week for me if I got here and the first time I was hitting the ball awful, because I would be like, 'Oh my god.' I think that could stress me out. But everything's been great. I'm just super happy to be here. I guess I'm not stressing myself out or putting a lot of pressure on myself."
This year, Fritz won his fifth ATP title in Delray Beach and cracked the Top 5 one week later, becoming the first American to reach that eilite group since Andy Roddick in 2009. As he prepares for his Indian Wells title defense, Fritz feels like a different player to the one that lifted the 2022 trophy in the desert.
"I think last year when I came in here I was ranked [No. 20]. I think I had just broken into the Top 20 for the first time, I was at my career high," he said. "Obviously now coming back here a year later I'm ranked No. 5.
"As a player, I'm a lot different and I have higher expectations for myself. I think last year coming into this tournament I wasn't even coming in thinking I was going to win. Now, obviously once you do something once, now it's always a possibility.
"I'm a much improved player with higher expectations. Winning last year gave me a lot of confidence."
Further adding to Fritz's confidence level is his continued strong form over the past 12 months. The American backed up his Indian Wells title with additional trophies in Eastbourne and Tokyo last season, with his title run in Japan helping him break into the Top 10 for the first time.
When Fritz entered Indian Wells last year, his biggest goal was to reach the Top 10. Now that he's surpassed that milestone by reaching the Top 5, what's next?
"I wanted to go year-end Top 5," he said. "The main goals were.... after having a Top 10 year, its tough to sometimes back that up, so have another Top 10 year. I want to push for ending the year in the Top 5 and I want to push for a really big result at a Grand Slam, at least make a final at a Grand Slam.
"I want to just give myself that opportunity to play for a title and I think that the results I've been having and the tennis I've been playing, I just need to deliver that on one of those weeks and it's possible."
After a first-round bye, Fritz faces a tough opening test in Indian Wells against fellow American Ben Shelton on Saturday. The Australian Open quarterfinalist beat Fabio Fognini in the first round on Thursday.
Fritz has already lifted a trophy this week, teaming with Australian Open women's singles champion Aryna Sabalenka to win the Eisenhower Cup, a mixed doubles exhibition tournament held on Tuesday night. The event was played in support of local charities in the Palm Springs area.