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By Richard Pagliaro | Sunday, March 20, 2022

 
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Taylor Fritz dealt Rafael Nadal his first defeat of the year, 6-3, 7-6(5), becoming the first American man since Andre Agassi in 2001 to win Indian Wells.

Photo credit: Getty

Pain prompted Taylor Fritz to pull the plug on his pre-final warm-up.

Perseverance and a slashing first-strike attack propelled Fritz to land a landmark Indian Wells victory.

More: Fritz Fights Into IW Final

Playing through the pain of a right ankle strain, Fritz fought off Rafael Nadal 6-3, 7-6(5) in the Indian Wells final snapping the Spaniard’s 20-match winning streak to claim the biggest championship of his career at the BNP Paribas Open.

Firing a final forehand down the line, Fritz collapse to the court in an eruption of pure joy.




The southern California native who grew up roaming the Indian Wells Tennis Garden grounds collecting autographs as a kid etched his name in history as the first American man since Andre Agassi in 2001 to win the BNP Paribas Open. Fritz, who said he was "basically almost crying because I thought I was going to have to pull out" was beaming afterward.

"I think to do it against Rafa in the end, that's like the icing on the cake. It's just insane," Fritz told the media in Indian Wells. "Someone that I watched like dominate, win everything. Him and Roger, I grew up, I didn't watch a ton of tennis growing up, but it's tough to not know these guys, knowing they're literally winning everything, their Grand Slam finals, all their battles.

"It's insane to even be on the same court with these people, much less be able to beat one of them, to win such a big tournament. To do it here in Indian Wells, as well, the combination of all these crazy things that I never thought possible."

Collecting his second title in his first Masters final as well as a $1.2 million champion's check, Fritz caps a week that saw him sweep Top 10 opponents Andrey Rublev and Nadal after fighting through 7-6 in the third set thrillers over Spanish qualifier Jaume Munar and personal nemesis Alex de Minaur. 

Fritz showed much more than firepower, he showed staying power.

An improbable triumph left Fritz in disbelief trying to explain it.  

"It's like after the match I kept saying, I'm going to cuss, but I said no Fing way, no Fing way, I can't believe it's real," Fritz said. "I signed the camera, I just put question marks. Stunned. Couldn't even believe it.

"Seriously, this is seriously like a childhood dream come true, like a wild dream you never expect to actually happen. It really hasn't even sunk in."

In a clash of walking wounded finalists—Nadal has been bothered by a chronic left foot injury and a strained pectoral muscle he suffered in his epic three hour, 12-minute conquest of Carlos Alcaraz last night—Fritz knew he had to pull the trigger quickly to try to shorten points.

As the match progressed, the 24-year-old Fritz looked fresher at times than the 35-year-old Nadal whose quest for a record-tying 37th Masters 1000 crown was denied.




A resilient Frits saved eight of 10 break points, including eight of nine in the second set.

Credit a banged-up Nadal, who took a near seven-minute medical timeout after the opening set, for fighting fiercely, denying a championship point in the 10th game and seizing a 5-4 lead in the tiebreaker.

Streaking forward for a forehand drive volley, Nadal blinked, wacked the shot wide and never recovered as Fritz won the final three points to end the Australian Open champion’s undefeated start to the season.

"I have experience in all these situations. So is the moment, of course, is tough to play a final like this," Nadal said of his own assorted injuries. "Yeah, tried till the end. That's it.

"Even I had my chances in the second set, I didn't convert too many chances. That's it, no? I think it's a difficult match to analyze personally from my side because I was not able to do many things. But yeah, it's a great victory for him. First Masters 1000. Big day for him. I just hope he enjoy it. I wish him all the very best."

Certainly, Nadal wasn’t physically at his best. Nadal scattered 34 unforced errors—12 more than Fritz—but he still nearly took this match the distance after battling by young guns Sebastian Korda, Reilly Opelka and Alcaraz. Nadal can now enjoy nearly a month off to rest and recover before hitting the red clay of Monte-Carlo where Novak Djokovic is expected to return.

The three-time Indian Wells champion said the painful pectoral issue made breathing tough at times today.

"When I'm breathing, when I'm moving it's like a needle all the time inside here, no?" Nadal said.  "I get dizzy a little bit because it's painful. It's a kind of pain that limit me a lot.

"Is not only about pain, I don't feel very well because affects to my breathe."

Though the American’s aching right ankle prompted him to cut short his initial morning warm-up after about only a five-minute hit, the adrenaline of playing his first Masters 1000 final—combined with an offensive mind-set that compelled him to take the first strike because of his limited mobility—saw Fritz put his best foot forward at the outset.



The Australian Open champion couldn’t find his first serve in the first set and Fritz made him pay. Fritz flattened a heavy diagonal forehand return scoring his second straight break for a 3-0 lead just 15 minutes into the final.

A serve-and-volley winner put the American up 40-0 and Fritz fired through his second straight love hold for a 4-0 advantage as a hobbled Nadal did not move for a couple of wide balls in that game.



Nadal answered with a love hold to finally get on the scoreboard after 21 minutes.

Serving for a one-set lead, Fritz took his first missteps floating a forehand and netting a slice backhand to give back the break in the eighth game.

Still, Nadal could not gain traction against the American’s deeper drives. Lacking the typical depth on his groundstrokes, Nadal netted a backhand down the line to face double set point. On the second set point, the Spaniard smacked a forehand beyond the baseline. Fritz had his third break and the opening set.

Tennis Express

After the 39-minute opener, Nadal left the court clutching his left pectoral muscle, which pained him during his epic three hour, 12-minute triumph over 18-year-old Carlos Alcaraz last night. Following about a seven-minute medical timeout, Nadal returned to court.



Striking with more conviction, Nadal drew the error and the first break of the second set in game three. Leaning into his two-hander crosscourt, Fritz sent a low shot Nadal could not handle as he broke back to even after four games.

Down beak point, Fritz raced up to a net cord shot then made two ridiculous reflex volleys nose-to-nose with Nadal at net to deny the break point. Leaping into a flying forehand crosscourt, Fritz fought through the longest game of the match, saving two break points along the way, for 3-2.

The Grand Slam king showed clever point construction and the entire shot spectrum using the dropper to lure Fritz forward and passing him with a forehand crosscourt capping a 36-shot rally—longest of the match—for a second break point in the ninth game.

That riveting exchange electrified fans and seemed to energize Nadal, but Fritz stomped out the uprising in a hard-fought hold for 5-4.

A scrambling Fritz scraped out a forehand get for championship point.



Unleashing a ferocious forehand crosscourt to set up a smash, Nadal nullified championship point. An adrenalized Nadal held to level then earned two break points in the 11th game.

Curling a slider serve down the T, Fritz saved the second break point. In a gritty stand, Fritz forced the mid-court ball and pounced spinning a forehand winner to escape a tense hold for 6-5.

By then, Fritz had fought off eight of nine break points in the second set.

Neither man had dropped a tiebreaker in the tournament—Nadal was 4-0 and Fritz 3-0—as the second-set breaker began.

A tremendous exchange of sharp angles escalated eliciting squeals of delight from some fans as Nadal streaked forward for smash taking a 5-4 lead in the breaker.

The fourth seed had the momentum and was in prime position for a forehand drive volley, but botched it wide and clutched his face in his hand in disbelief. That was a match-changing miss.

Instead of set point it was 5-all. Fritz jumped all over that miscue clubbing a forehand down the line to force a shanked reply for a second championship point.

For Nadal, the mind-numbing miss left him feeling "sad" as he aimed to launch clay season with a perfect record. Afterward, Nadal said in his court-side seat, face in his towel for a moment, as if soaking in his first loss since August of 2021.

"Well, honestly, I wanted to make it perfect before clay, no? Have been very, very, very beautiful," Nadal said. "Honestly I am sad because the way I was not able to compete. Is tough to have these feelings,especially every day, but in the final is very, very ugly, no?

"But, yeah, in sport is not about talking of the past. We need to talk about today. And today is a difficult day for me, no, tough."



Nearly 21 minutes after his first championship point, Fritz fired that forehand winner and fell flat on his back absorbing the ultimate homecoming weekend win.


 

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