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By Richard Pagliaro | Friday, April 14, 2023


Taylor Fritz delivered dynamic attack dismissing two-time defending champion Stefanos Tsitsipas 6-2, 6-4 to roll into his first Rolex Monte-Carlo Masters semifinal.

Photo credit: Jean Catuffe/Getty Images

Masters red clay has been a massive sinkhole for American men.

Mixing crushing force with clever finesse, Taylor Fritz road tripped the express route to his biggest clay win today—in a triumph he dedicated American Unicorns.

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A focused Fritz delivered dynamic attack dismissing two-time defending champion Stefanos Tsitsipas 6-2, 6-4 in a 70-minute sweep to roll into his first Rolex Monte-Carlo Masters semifinal.

"I thought I played really well," Fritz said. "I guess I had like a strategy in mind of how I wanted to play. In order to I guess implement that strategy required me to be playing well, I guess, you know, changing backhand line and going for, I guess, some line changes that I normally wouldn't go for, so it required me to play well.

"But I was able to do that, so I was able to I guess play exactly the way I wanted to play and hit the shots that I wanted to hit and kind of how I kind of saw my game plan working out in my head I was actually able to do on the court."

The 25-year-old Fritz, who grew up playing on Southern California hard courts, is the first American to reach the Monte-Carlo semifinals since noted Break Point author Vince "Spadea Ain't Afraid of Ya" Spadea made the final four 20 years ago.

Collaborating with coach Iron Mike Russell on tactics, Fritz not only came out with the ideal game plan, he executed it almost flawlessly.

Knowing Tsitsipas is at his best dancing to the left of the center stripe to command rallies with his forehand, Fritz boldly attacked the Greek's best shot with his own forehand crosscourt and some blistering backhands down the line. Those heavy strikes opened space for Fritz, whose two-hander is his most reliable weapon, to attack Tsitsipas' one-handed backhand. Fritz blitzed out to a 4-0 lead after 16 minutes and never gave it back.

After dissecting Tsitsipas for the first time in four career meetings, Fritz candidly detailed how he did it.

"What makes Stef so tough on any surface is the forehand," Fritz told Tennis Channel's Prakash Amritraj afterward. "And what makes him even tougher on clay is the extra time he gets around to attack and it's tougher to hurt him to the forehand side because he has that extra time to get over there, he moves so well to it.

"I wanted to go early and often backhand line and forehand inside in attacking that side as much as possible to open up space for me to then play heavy, play to the backhand and that was the overall strategy. It requires me to play well to implement because it requires me to go backhand line forehand inside in on more difficult shots I normally wouldn't go on. But yeah I played really well and I was able to do what I wanted to do."

Playing with relaxed aggression, Fritz fired his third ace to punctuate his first Top 10 win on clay in six attempts with a statement shot. 

The No. 8-seeded Fritz will play for a place in his first clay-court Masters 1000 when he takes on another jolting forehand in Andrey Rublev tomorrow. Fritz has won four of six meetings vs. Rublev; this will be their first clay clash.

Earlier, the fifth-seeded Rublev converted four of 14 break points beating German qualifier Jan-Lennard Struff 6-1, 7-6(5).

The 2022 Indian Wells champion Fritz not only snapped Tsitsipas' 12-match winning streak, he responded to the Greek's jab on American clay-court scarcity writing "USA Clay???" on the court-side camera lens after his win.

That statement came in response to Tsitsipas' camera comment earlier this week when he wrote red clay tennis in the USA is like "a unicorn riding a skateboard."

Unicorn-supporter Fritz said his words were meant in pure fun—not a snarky snap—conceding Tsitsipas makes a valid point that Americans could use more clay in their lives. 

"We're just joking around," Fritz said. "To be fair he has a good point. We could use some better clay courts in the US for sure. I just thought it was funny to come back and say something else. I'm not like taking crazy shots. I just thought it was funny."

Something tells us Tsitsipas won't be laughing if he watches video of this match. Afterward, Tsitsipas credited Fritz for outplaying him.

"It's certainly I guess trickier for the Americans to play on red clay. They are not really used to it," Tsitsipas said. "But Taylor seemed great out there. He played great tennis."

The deposed champion said he was surprised the 6'4" Fritz handled his heavy topspin so well.

"I was kind of surprised how he was able to control the ball so well, because I genuinely think my topspin is pretty heavy," Tsitsipas said. "I have heard other people say that.

"I don't know. I'm very confident when I see my shot come over the racquet like this. I see a person like him control the ball and navigate it down the line on the line a few times in a row, so I had to adjust there and change something.

"Didn't really seem like it was working, but anyhow, it is what it is."
Fritz played much of the match off the front foot, moved the ball beautifully corner-to-corner and showed the guts not only torch flatter drives down the line, but showed fine feel with some soft drop shot winners as well.

"I feel like I've been using the drop shot a lot over the last year and a half especially off the forehand," Fritz said. "I think it works great on clay on these balls where I already back people up.

"People expect me to go bigger on the next one so I can get away sometimes with not even hitting a very good drop shot."

Striking cleanly and refusing to let the two-time defending champion camp out in his backhand corner to fire forehands, Fritz put Tsitsipas in uncomfortable places on court.

Hammering his two-handed backhand down the line with menacing intent, Fritz powered out to a 4-0 lead after a mere 16 minutes.

The 2022 Indian Wells champion served out the set at love in 29 minutes.

Exceptional on all levels, the only thing Fritz didn't do superbly in the first set was land his first serve. Despite serving just 44 percent, the American won 16 of 18 points played on his serve in the opening set.

Deadlocked after eight games, Fritz exploited three Tsitsipas forehand miscues and lashed a forehand scoring his second straight break for 5-4. A fired-up Fritz won eight of the last nine points pumping that closing ace to seal his best clay-court win.

Credit Fritz and coach Russell for not only devising a simple, clear game plan, but for showing the conviction to carry it out.

Russell, who famously upset two-time French Open champion Sergi Bruguera at the 2001 Roland Garros,  then held a match point at 5-3 in the third set against top-seeded Gustavo Kuerten before the lanky clay-court maestro fought back for a 3-6, 4-6, 7-6(7), 6-3, 6-1 victory en route to his third Roland Garros title, and Fritz may want to cook up a similar plan for the heavy-hitting Rublev.

"I think it is somewhat similar to today where he's the most dangerous when he's attacking with the forehand, so I think the key is probably not to let him be dictating me and be the aggressor in the points with his forehand," said Fritz of facing Rublev. "Anytime I'm on defense running around a lot, it's normally not good for me."


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