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Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Another Look at Taylor Fritz's Memorable 2015 Easter Bowl Comeback

Five years ago, Taylor Fritz had established himself as one of the top juniors in the world. He validated that status by reaching the final of the ITF Junior Masters in China, losing to Andrey Rublev of Russia 6-7(2), 6-3, 6-4 on Sunday, then flying back to the United States to play in his first round match on Tuesday at the Easter Bowl ITF.

I've always thought that testing your limits is necessary to determine what exactly those limits are, and I think Fritz did just that in choosing to compete in the Easter Bowl after such a grueling trip.

I spoke with him after his first round match Tuesday and he admitted he had underestimated the impact.

"I thought it was going to be bad," said Fritz of his journey, "but I really didn't think it was going to be that bad. It was awful in the beginning. I've never done that or anything like that. I've always been like three days early at the latest before going anywhere. I'm always pretty early for everything. And then you can see, I got better as the match went on and I was lucky enough to get out of it."

Fritz also had a four-stroke hold in that 7-5, 6-3 win over Caleb Chakravarthi, with four straight aces, but it was two days later that the truly memorable match occurred, against 15-year-old Patrick Kypson. Kypson would go on to win the Kalamazoo 16s title later that year, but he was just getting started on the ITF Circuit back then and had to qualify for the Easter Bowl Grade B1 that year. My account of that match follows:

©Colette Lewis 2015--
Indian Wells, CA--

Down 6-4, 5-0 and being thoroughly outplayed by 15-year-old qualifier Patrick Kypson, top seed Taylor Fritz managed to keep alive the hope that the physical toll he was exacting by continuing to compete could help him work his way into the match.  That, and Kypson's inexperience at the top levels of the junior game, proved Fritz right, and the world's fourth-ranked boy recorded the most improbable of comebacks to earn a 4-6, 7-5, 6-2 victory and a place in the quarterfinals.

"The first set and a half I was just playing like awful," said Fritz, who admitted the full impact of his trip from China on Monday hit him Wednesday night. "But I don't know if it really would have made a difference, the way he was playing, so tough. He was playing me really smart, moving me a lot. He was mixing up the serve a lot, never let me get a feel, especially the second serve. He wouldn't let me run around and attack it at all."

"But the way he was playing, he was doing a lot of running and digging out a lot of balls, and I just knew eventually--he could probably play like that all day--his body would stop him from playing at that level, just because he's younger. I was doing a lot of moving him, and so I felt like eventually he would slow down a little bit. And I played a lot better when I got all the way down, stuck with it."

After getting broken serving at 4-5 in the first set, Kypson won six straight games, using his drop shot effectively and staying with Fritz in all of the baseline rallies. Fritz held for 5-1, so Kypson would need to serve it out.

Kypson was broken at love, but serving at 2-5, Fritz made two backhand errors to go down 0-30.  He picked up his serving at that crucial moment however and held for 5-3. 

Serving for the match a second time, Kypson again failed to reach match point, with Fritz hitting a delicate lob winner to make it 15-30 and Kypson double faulting for 15-40. Kypson saved one break point when Fritz's forehand went wide, but the second went to Fritz courtesy of an anything-you-can-do-I-can-do-better backhand drop shot winner.

That shot produced a roar of 'come on' from Fritz and some enthusiastic support from the crowd, almost all of whom were squarely in his corner, not the underdog's, due to Fritz's local connections. Fritz held at love, and a shaken Kypson immediately went down 15-40 on his serve. He gathered himself to save those two break points, but a line call on a return at deuce, which Kypson called out, much to Fritz's disgust, seemed to add even more adrenaline to Fritz's game. He broke for a 6-5 lead and held at love, and although another set remained to be played, Kypson's window had closed.

Fritz had to save a break point in his first service game of the third set, but after that he lost only three points on serve and he ended the match with a 120 mph ace.

As for his decision to come straight from China to play in the tournament, Fritz said his didn't have extremely high expectations, but said: "I wanted to just come here to see if I could do it, prove it to myself, so down 6-4, 5-0, I'm thinking, I haven't come back like that in forever and I just want to do it for myself. That's what kept me in it."

Fritz went on to claim the title, beating Sam Riffice 6-2, 6-3 in the final (complete draw is here), and he continued his impressive results the remainder of the year. He reached the French Open boys final, the Wimbledon boys semifinals, the Kalamazoo semifinals and, in his final junior slam, claimed the US Open boys title. Fritz then won back-to-back Challengers in the fall, and by February of the following year, he had reached his first ATP final in Memphis. 

Fritz, now 22, is currently No. 24 in the ATP rankings, a career-high.