Netflix’s Break Point showcased the biggest moment of Taylor Fritz’s ATP Tour career, when the American won the 2022 BNP Paribas Open title in his native Southern California. By claiming the Indian Wells crown, Fritz followed in the footsteps of his idol, Pete Sampras, who won the ATP Masters 1000 event twice.
The victory also made Fritz the No. 1 American in the Pepperstone ATP Rankings — an honour he still holds today, and one that Sampras held for much of his legendary career.
Long before he was chasing the biggest titles in the game, Fritz was just cutting his teeth at the professional level and hoping for an opportunity to meet the man who spent 286 weeks as World No. 1. In a 2018 interview, Fritz recalled a special birthday surprise from Sampras years earlier at an ATP Challenger Tour event in Monterrey.
“I had just started doing well on the pro Tour so I thought maybe I had a chance of talking to him or maybe he would want to talk to me,” Fritz said, recalling that Sampras was in town for an ATP Champions Tour event.
It looked like he would get his wish, as a practice session was set up for the pair. At the last minute, Fritz was told that Sampras cancelled. But his disappointment quickly turned to joy when his idol walked out onto the court bearing a gift.
“I walk on the court to to warm up for my match, and it was my 18th birthday, and Sampras comes out with… they gave him a cake!” Fritz said with a laugh. “I don’t think anyone filled him in on the part that he was giving me a cake.
“It was just really cool. I went from thinking, ‘Oh, he cancelled the hit,’ it was a regular practice… to now this is my idol, on my 18th birthday, hitting with me, warming me up for the match and then giving me the cake. It was pretty cool.”
That moment in 2015 was a long time coming for Fritz, who still has memories of watching Sampras as a toddler.
“I’ve always looked up to Pete Sampras,” Fritz said. “I’ve tried to copy his serve even. He was always my favourite player growing up and he was the best American player of all time so I always wanted to be like him. He was always an idol for me.
“I love the way he was so calm. I thought it was the coolest thing when he would get up a break in the set and he would just tank the return games because he knew he wasn’t going to get broken. I thought that was so cool, having that confidence that I broke serve and the set’s over.”
Sampras, speaking to ATPTour.com after meeting Fritz, proved prescient in his assessment of his countryman’s potential.
“He’s got a great game,” Sampras said. “He hits the ball big, has a monster forehand. I haven’t seen him play that much, but he’s got a few big weapons. He’s a big kid. I was just talking to him a little bit about what it takes, that it’s hard work and sacrifice. He’s on his way and he’s got the right attitude, willing to learn and listen. He’s got a great future.”
Nearly a decade later, Fritz is leading a fresh charge for American tennis. The 25-year-old is one of three men from the United States in the Top 20 of the Pepperstone ATP Rankings, and one of 10 in the Top 50.