Taylor Fritz looked like he could have worn a tool belt Saturday.
The highest-ranked Team World competitor in the Laver Cup brought the tennis equivalent of a hammer, knife, chisel, cutter and tape measure in a 6-2, 7-6 (7-3) straight-sets victory over Andrey Rublev of Team Europe at Rogers Arena.
It not only gave his team a brief commanding 6-0 lead in the race to reach 13 championship points Sunday — Casper Ruud defeated Tommy Paul 7-6, 6-2 to cut the deficit to 6-2 because match wins are worth two points later Saturday — it was the manner in which the world No.10 knew which tool to reach for against the crafty Rublev.
Whether it was first-serve dominance, backhand or forehand winners, a rare one-handed backhand, or even a cagey touch-tap effort at the net to get the second set to a tie-breaker, the 25-year-old American had the right stuff. And he hammered home the win with a forehand cross-court winner.
Fritz had 76 per cent wins on his first serve, but his 14 net-point wins were just as impressive.
“I worked a lot in the last couple of years in coming forward,” said Fritz. “This specific matchup was good for me to get to the net. I can look to pull my backhand off the court and take my forehand hard. And when I got him running to the backhand, conditions are very slow.
“You can’t let him float the ball back and re-set points. You have to follow a lot of shots in. I was forced to come in more and always felt like I’ve been better with the touch volleys and half-volleys. It catches people off.”
What was just as important was coolness under fire and no sense of panic.
Fritz had broke Rublev twice in the opening set and unloaded backhand and forehand winners in the set-clinching game. However, in the second set, he fell behind 4-1, but rallied with a break and got the set to 4-4 and 5-5 before trailing 6-5. And even though Rublev had a break-point chance at 30-40, Fritz showed calmness to get to the tie-breaker.
“I just had to stay with it and felt like I upped my level a lot in the tie-breaker,” said Fritz. “Down 4-1, it was just one break and not that big of a deal It’s easy to get frustrated if I play a bad game and get broken.”
It’s that kind of talent and composure that impresses Team World vice-captain Patrick McEnroe.
“He has played great in this environment and that’s the sign of a great leader,” said McEnroe. “He inspires the other guys. When the bell rings, he’s ready to go.”
And when he needed a special tool, that one-handed backhander was something to see.
“It’s improvising,” shrugged Fritz. “A lot of times, when somebody smokes a return, and catches it deep to my backhand, I’ll hit a 180 (degree) flip because it’s much easier than a two-handed pick-up. It’s nothing crazy, but it’s normally better than the one today.”
(MORE TO COME …)
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