The Southern California tennis community has been waiting for this for quite some time. People know the story line, the potential, even the blood lines. They were sure it would happen.
And it did Friday at the Indian Wells Garden, where the BNP Paribas Open made a perfect host venue for the local boy, Taylor Fritz. He took the court, smelled the home cooking and delivered with a flurry, with a style and distinction that portends much more in years to come.
Fourteen days before his 24th birthday, Fritz took out a superstar on the men’s pro tour. He beat third-seeded and world No. 4 Alexander Zverev of Germany, 4-6, 6-3, 7-6 (3). That put him in Saturday’s semifinals of this prestigious Masters 1000 Series tournament. It was his first venture that deep into a tournament this big and it put him in position to become the first American to win here in 20 years. Andre Agassi beat Peter Sampras in the 2001 final.
The center court crowd, on a comfortably sunny Friday afternoon in the place they call Tennis Paradise, pushed him through the early going, and carried him through the finish line.
“I’m from here,” said Fritz, who was born in Rancho Santa Fe and lives in Rancho Palos Verdes, “and the crowd was on my side.”
The entertainment value in this match went beyond sentiment for the local guy.
Zverev, last year’s U.S. Open finalist, served for the match at 5-3. At that point, it was going to be pats on the back for Fritz for a nice effort. Then, Zverev seemed to lose his mind, or at least his common sense.
The 6-foot-6 big server cranked one 130 mph that Fritz barely ticked off his racket. The next first serve came in at 136, and hardly anyone, including Fritz, even saw that one. Next came one at 129, but Fritz managed to block that back at Zverev’s feet to make it 30-15.
Suddenly, the rocket-thrower started to flame out. He double faulted to deuce, then missed his first serve and hit a second one 135 mph for an ace and match point. That’s not a typo. He hit a second serve for a 135-mph ace. On match point, he tried it again — 132-mph second serve that missed. At deuce, he missed at 134 mph, then blooped the second in at 82, of which Fritz made short work. Now it was break point, and Zverev’s second serve floated in this time at 76 mph, or 60 mph slower than his big one earlier in the game. Fritz gobbled it up, held his own serve and ran off to an insurmountable 4-0 lead in the eventual tiebreaker, as Zverev appeared to be looking for the next taxi.
Zverev said, afterward, when asked about his upcoming schedule: “I just want to go home.”
Fritz will be going back to center court for a Saturday afternoon match against Nikoloz Basilashvili of Georgia (the country, not the state). The winner will face either Grigor Dimitrov or Cameron Norrie for the title Sunday.
If Fritz gets there, there will be much talk about genes, about mom Kathy May Fritz, former top-10 player in the world, and dad Guy Fritz, also a former tour player and recipient of the USA Tennis Development Coach of the Year award in 2016. Will it be prodigy-becomes-star time?
Asked what his first thought was when it finished Friday, Taylor Fritz responded: “I said, ‘Wow,’ I did it.”
Azarenka, Badosa reach final
The first semifinal Friday night in the BNP Paribas Open featured two past major tournament winners, and two-time Australian Open champion Victoria Azarenka of Belarus outlasted 2017 French Open winner Jelena Ostapenko 3-6, 6-3, 7-5. Azarenka was seeded 27th here, Ostapenko 24th. In Sunday’s final, Azarenka will play Paula Badosa of Spain, who beat Ons Jabeur of Tunisia. The score was 6-3, 6-3, but the last few games went on and on, as Jabeur hung tough, saved five match points and finally caved when Badosa slugged a deep shot and Jabeur’s return went wide. Badosa became the first Spanish female player to get to the Indian Wells final since Conchita Martinez in 1996.
Bill Dwyre is a former Los Angeles Times sports editor.
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.