“Calm, Easygoing, Hardworking”: Down Under With Taylor Fritz
Professional tennis fast approaches a generational juncture. “The old world is dying and the new one struggles to be born,” the Italian Marxist Antonio Gramsci once wrote. As the old guard of Federer and Serena retire, a new class of stars is rising, both on and off the court. More than ever, young players are pushing to define themselves, and tennis players at large, with new roles and fuller affect—to carve out time as models, influencers, investors, musicians; to reveal more of themselves in order to be understood as friendly, creative, political, depressed, complicated.
Enter Taylor Fritz. The 25-year old top-ranked American man ended 2022 on a blazing hot streak, breaking into the top 10 for the first time, and now features as one of the stars of a new Netflix series, Break Point, following the grind of an ascendant group of talent. Days before the Australian Open kicks off, Fritz connected with Charlie Dulik, co-founder of Club Leftist Tennis, a Substack newsletter covering tennis through a left-wing lens, to talk about the show, his generation of players, prank wars, San Diego burritos and more.
CHARLIE DULIK: Congrats on clinching the United Cup for Team USA. How does it feel to head into the Australian Open with that kind of momentum?
TAYLOR FRITZ: It’s great to have that confidence, to be able to win an event, and not just win it, but to be able to play a lot of matches against top players and feel that I’m playing really well.
DULIK: You’ve been on a crazy hot streak, breaking into the top 10 at the end of last year. I’m curious what you think has really started clicking for you?
FRITZ: All of last year I felt like my forehand turned into much more of a weapon. I could trust it a lot more. A lot of my game is coming together and I’m much more solid. I guess my average level that I’ll show up with most of the time has gotten a lot better. It’s not just that I can play really, really well, and if I don’t, then I can’t beat people. I think now, I show up, and what I’ll bring 90% of the time is a true top 10 level. So that’s been a big thing.
DULIK: It’s been cool watching that happen as a fan. And I love watching all these team tournaments, like the United Cup. I’m curious if you feel like it brings a different element to your game when you’re playing with other young players and other Americans, as opposed to always being against everyone?
FRITZ: I think there’s definitely different aspects to it. I’ve always performed really well at team events. I think it’s because it brings you a bit of a different energy. There’s more pressure involved. I feel like you almost want to win even more, because you’re not just playing for yourself, you’re playing for other people as well.
DULIK: It seemed like you guys had good camaraderie, but I was concerned. I saw on your Twitter that Frances Tiafoe once pantsed you publicly. So, I’m wondering if you have any big plans for any revenge?
FRITZ: It’s tough to pants Frances back because his butt is so big. You can’t actually pull the shorts down.
DULIK: You’re taking the high road.
FRITZ: No, no, no. I wish I could get him back. I’m sure I’ll get him back sometime. Him and I, we go back and forth all the time. Is someone really a good friend if you can’t mess with each other? That’s kind of our relationship.
DULIK: Totally. So you’re one of the new stars of this Netflix series, Break Point. I’m wondering what you hope people, either fans of tennis or people who aren’t fans of tennis, take away about you personally.
FRITZ: I’m not totally sure. I think that I tried to just be myself and be very real for the cameras. I tried. I never really even acted like they were there. I just hope I come off as myself, confident, calm, easygoing, hardworking.
DULIK: It’s cool to me that it’s not just about you, but this whole class of young stars. You get the personal angle you’re talking about. Do you think viewers will have any overarching takeaways about your generation?
FRITZ: I’m not totally sure yet. I haven’t seen all five episodes, but I feel like there’s going to be a big emphasis on how incredibly tough it is to just be on the tennis tour, because it’s so nonstop. It’s so stressful all the time, how the rankings work and how the points work and how you can lose everything you’ve worked for a long time for if you just get injured or have a bad year. I think that there’s going to be an emphasis on a lot of the mental difficulties of the sport.
DULIK: There’s a big Calvin Klein billboard in Manhattan with Alcaraz in his underwear. Can we expect a big Taylor Fritz underwear ad anytime soon?
FRITZ: Maybe. You never know.
DULIK: You’ve made yourself more available to fans. You’re talking about showing them what your mindset is, your personality. I understand you’re also a Twitch streamer. Has gaming taught you any lessons you bring to the court?
FRITZ: I wouldn’t call myself a Twitch streamer, necessarily. It’s been a long time, actually. But it’s kind of fun to play games when I have the energy to be interacting with fans. I guess they can see me differently than they normally would, as opposed to when they see me on the court or in interviews. They can see me just at my house, chilling and playing games and being very casual.
DULIK: Players of your generation are wanting to show off what they’re like in different contexts to fans. What do you think it is about younger players that are more likely to be on Twitch or popping off on Twitter and TikTok?
FRITZ: I think it’s important to grow the sport, to be honest, just to build an audience, build fans outside of tennis, and to potentially get people more interested in tennis. Maybe if someone happens to see a TikTok a tennis player made, then they’ll want to go watch that player play or get more into the sport. I think it’s important for your own personal brand and for the sport as well.
DULIK: Are people responding to you differently since your rise in the rankings?
FRITZ: Yeah, obviously, as my ranking goes up, as I win more, there’s going to be more fans and more attention on me. But, I feel like it’s been a very natural growth. It’s no coincidence that wins and stuff like that correlates to all the attention that you’re going to be getting online.
DULIK: Another sport that’s picking up right now is pickleball. Are you a fan?
FRITZ: I think it’s pretty split, in tennis at least. There’s people that are pickleball haters and people that don’t see pickleball as any kind of a problem and support it. I’d say I’m on that side. I think it’s great for people to just be able to play and have fun. I think it’s cool for us too,as tennis players, because without even having to play it, we already have a massive advantage over everybody else playing it.
FRITZ: It’s just easy. I understand why it’s getting popular, because it’s much easier to pick up and play and be decent at than tennis. Tennis is extremely hard for the average person to just play a couple times and be able to have fun doing it.
DULIK: But do you ever wish people were gravitating to tennis that quickly?
FRITZ: Yeah, I obviously wish that there’d be more popularity towards tennis. I’m hoping that the show will accomplish a lot of that. But, like I said, I understand why it’s easy for any random person to go play pickleball and enjoy it. Tennis takes a lot more time and effort to get to a level where you can enjoy playing it.
DULIK: You’re in Australia for a little while between tournaments and before the Australian Open. Are you doing anything to relax? Going out and experiencing Australian culture? Or is it all business?
FRITZ: I’m pretty much all business. My days are very long. In tennis, you don’t really get a very long off season at all, so I kind of have to use this week as a big training week. I’m at the courts six to eight hours a day, whether it be the physio table, tennis, gym, and then physio table again afterwards for recovery. Hopefully I can slip out for a couple of dinners. But typically after being gone for that long, I really just want to enjoy my free time relaxing in my room.
DULIK: It’s too bad, because I feel like Australia almost has some spiritual overlap with your hometown, San Diego.
FRITZ: Maybe a little bit. I think it’s very tough for me to compare anything to San Diego, I’d say.
DULIK: Are you a San Diego french-fries-in-your-burrito kind of guy? Or are you more traditional?
FRITZ: Oh, absolutely. That is traditional stuff in a burrito.
DULIK: I’m from Northern California, so that’s always been like, the weird thing they do in San Diego.
FRITZ: That’s the classic.
DULIK: You will accept no other form.
DULIK: I have a couple more questions for you. I want to go back to this generational thing, where more players are putting their personal lives out there. Recently, you spoke out in support of any gay players on the tour if they were to come out. Why are more players, especially younger ones, speaking out on real social and political issues?
FRITZ: I feel like we’re being asked, to be honest. It’s not necessarily my place or my expertise to be talking about those types of things, but if I get asked in the interview, then I’ll talk about it and I’ll give my honest opinion. It’s always been tough, because when you get asked anything that could be, I guess, “controversial,” it’s a double-edged sword. Whatever you say, there’s going to be people that disagree with you. So, I think that that’s always the reason why players haven’t spoken about these things. But I do think it’s important to have a voice and be different and not just be a robot that answers every question the same, so you never get any kind of heat for saying what you believe.
DULIK: You may take some heat for your burrito opinion, but I appreciate you standing strong. Describe your mindset for the Australian Open in three words.
FRITZ: Three words? Confident, relaxed, and ready.
DULIK: Well, thanks so much. Great talking to you.
FRITZ: Awesome, thanks Charlie.