Injuries were a major storyline in the previous two 2022 meetings between Rafael Nadal and Taylor Fritz. On Sunday at the Nitto ATP Finals, both men were operating with clean bills of health in Turin — with Fritz putting forth an equally clean performance to earn a famous upset.
With a 7-6(3), 6-1 win, Fritz completed a dream debut at the season finale while denting Nadal’s bid to win the lone big title that has eluded him in his legendary career. The Spaniard’s defeat also means he must now claim the Turin title to overtake Carlos Alcaraz for the year-end No. 1 Pepperstone ATP Ranking.
“It feels great. I felt like coming out first mach, especially for my hopes of getting out of the group, it was going to be really important,” said Fritz, who moved above Casper Ruud into first place in the Green Group. “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 improved to 2-2 in his ATP Head2Head series against Nadal, backing up his win in the Indian Wells final in March — a match the American nearly didn’t play due to an ankle injury. He also gained a measure of revenge after a heartbreaking Wimbledon quarter-final defeat in which Nadal came from behind despite struggling with an abdominal tear.
The last man into the Turin field, Fritz showed he belonged with a dominant display as he controlled the match with his serve and forehand. The 25-year-old did not face a break point and created nine of his own, converting on two of six in the second set as he ran away with the victory by winning the final five games.
Both men looked to find their forehands early and often in the rallies, and it was Fritz who found more success with the crucial tactic, finishing the match with 23 winners to Nadal’s 18. The INSIGHTS In Attack statistics show that the American hit 30 per cent of his shots from attacking positions in the match, compared to 21 per cent for Nadal.
While Fritz did most of his damage off the ground from his forehand wing, the American pointed out a crucial edge on his rally backhand as he benefitted from the slick indoor surface at the Pala Alpitour.
“The court’s definitely fast. For me, fast is good for my serve, it’s good for my backhand,” he explained in his on-court interview. “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. So I’d say that’s where it helps me the most on the ground against him.”
After Fritz failed to convert on three break points in the opening set, he never trailed in the tie-break after taking a 3/0 lead with the help of a Nadal double fault.
The American dealt a final blow late in the second set by converting on his fifth break point of a six-deuce game. He then quickly served out the match with one hour, 37 minutes played to record his first win against a Top 3 opponent in 12 attempts.
Nadal, who was playing in his second ATP Tour singles match since the US Open, has now suffered three straight defeats, all against Americans. He was turned back by Frances Tiafoe at the US Open and Tommy Paul two weeks ago in Paris before Sunday’s loss at the hands of Fritz.
Did You Know?
Fritz is the first American singles player to compete at the Nitto ATP Finals since John Isner in 2018. He is bidding to become the first American semi-finalist since Jack Sock in 2017 (London), the first finalist since James Blake in 2006 (Shanghai) and the first champion since Pete Sampras in 1999 (Hanover).