Taylor Fritz downs Frances Tiafoe in all-American final in Tokyo
From COVID-19 quarantine to on top of the world: Capping off a "crazy" 10 days in Asia, Taylor Fritz triumphed over Frances Tiafoe in the final of the Rakuten Japan Open Tennis Championships in Tokyo on Sunday.
Forced to withdraw from the Eugene Korea Open Tennis Championships in Seoul after testing positive for COVID-19, Fritz arrived in the Japanese capital after serving a seven-day quarantine and embarked on what might be the most memorable winning run of his career to date: Stretched to three sets in each of his first three matches, the No. 3 seed defeated No. 4 seed and good friend Tiafoe in a 7-6(3), 7-6(2) final to win his third title of the year and fourth of his career.
“[It's] crazy, I don’t even think it’s set in just how fast the last four or five days have been,” Fritz said after the match. “It’s so crazy, and I couldn’t have written it any better. It’s exactly what I needed for the Race, for my ranking, to kind of put me in a good position for the end of the year, so it’s amazing.”
The win also assures Fritz of a Top 10 ranking for the first time in his career on Monday. He's projected to rise to a new best of No. 8 and is the first American man to break into the ATP's Top 10 since Jack Sock in 2017.
He also rises to No. 7 in the Race to the ATP Finals, in which the Top 8 qualify for the season-ending championships in Turin, Italy.
Road to the Championship - Taylor Fritz
R1: def. James Duckworth (AUS) - 6-2, 6-7(2), 6-1
R2: def. (LL) Hiroki Moriya (JPN) - 6-1, 3-6, 6-4
QF: def. Nick Kyrgios (AUS) - walkover
SF: def. (7) Denis Shapovalov (CAN) - 6-3, 6-7(5), 6-3
F: def. (4) Frances Tiafoe (USA) - 7-6(3), 7-6(2)
Though Tiafoe was the first of the two men to break serve at 1-1 in the opener, Fritz restored parity in the next game; neither man was broken again in the match, though each faced break points. Fritz's serve ultimately became his strength in the tightest moments: He never lost it in either tiebreak to hold on to early leads.
"I felt extremely calm and I felt like I had a lot of clarity in making decisions on the court," Fritz said. "For playing such a big match in a final, that's huge to not be nervous and feel very calm and locked in."
Fritz is the 10th different U.S. singles champion at the ATP 500 event and the first since Pete Sampras in 1996. He also snapped Tiafoe's 13-set unbeaten streak in tiebreaks and improved his head-to-head record against him to 5-1.
After leading Team World to a first-ever victory in the Laver Cup in London last month, Tiafoe arrived in Asia and didn't lose a set in his first three rounds before beating South Korea's Kwon Soon-woo in a 6-2, 0-6, 6-4 semifinal to reach his fourth career final and second in 2022. For his efforts, he too will reach a career-high ranking on Monday: The US Open semifinalist will move up two spots to No. 17.
"He just played well. He played the big points well, played really aggressive," Tiafoe said in defeat. "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."
So far in 2022, Fritz is one of just three players to triumph at all three levels of ATP Tour events; he also triumphed at the ATP Masters 1000 event in Indian Wells, and at the ATP 250 event in Eastbourne. He joins Novak Djokovic and Stefanos Tsitsipas on that list.
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