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Taylor Fritz's Secret Weapon: His Mind

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It’s no secret that Taylor Fritz is talented. The American was once the world’s No. 1 junior, winning the 2015 US Open Boys’ Singles title with the loss of just one set. And then in February 2016, Fritz reached the Memphis Open final at just 18 years old, becoming the youngest American to make a tour-level championship match since 17-year-old Michael Chang triumphed at Wembley 29 years ago.
But at the 2018 Next Gen ATP Finals, the world got to see the American from a new perspective thanks to one of the many innovations at the 21-and-under event in Milan. In a way, the allowance of post-set coaching in between sets revealed Fritz’s secret weapon: his mind.
After each set, Fritz put on his headset to speak with coach David Nainkin. You might have expected Nainkin to have the first word, instructing his charge. But the 21-year-old Fritz nearly always took the initiative. Fritz would start breaking down the patterns of play in the match and express what he needed to improve in the next set. While in-match coaching is not allowed elsewhere on the ATP Tour, including this week at the Brisbane International, where Fritz is into the second round, the week in Milan provided a window into the mind of one of the sport’s brightest young talents.

“He has a very good analytical tennis brain, so I like to hear him out, hear his thoughts and I’ll give him my opinions so he can hear that,” Nainkin said in Milan. “This is the way he thinks on the changeover. What happens here, he just gets to verbalise it. But for sure whatever he’s saying to me on the changeover now, he’s thinking at other events. On the changeover, he’s trying to problem solve, he’s trying to figure out his opponent. He’s trying different patterns and he’s trying to see what works.”
Nainkin has worked with plenty of talented players over the years, including former Wayne Ferreira and Mardy Fish to Sam Querrey and WTA star Sloane Stephens. Fritz, even when compared to those four, has stood out to Nainkin with his constant focus on the details.
“It’s pretty engaging as a coach from when I started with him when he was 17, for him to be that outspoken and analytical. It’s great for a coach to hear a player have thoughts about their game,” Nainkin said. “Sometimes maybe he’s a little outspoken. But I’d rather have that than someone not being switched on at all, so I really enjoy it.”
At one point in his young career, though, Fritz’s mind betrayed him. Toward the end of 2016, Fritz suffered a knee injury.
Instead of taking time off to heal, the American wanted to capitalise on the momentum of his early-season breakthrough, continuing to play despite not being fully fit to do so. That created a domino effect that saw him spend much of 2017 outside the Top 100 of the ATP Rankings.

“I learned that lesson pretty quickly, that I’m not going to be able to perform if I’m not fully healthy. And so I started losing a lot and I didn’t get any off-season before the 2017 season because I was rehabbing my knee,” Fritz said. “I think I just kind of struggled to find my form again in 2017 because of the injury and the fact that I didn’t get any time to practise and improve my game.”
But Fritz bounced back in a major way in 2018, reaching nine quarter-finals at all levels, cracking the Top 50 for the first time on 29 October, and debuting in Milan.
Fritz, however, knows that there is plenty of room to grow. At media day at the Next Gen ATP Finals,, after Australian Alex de Minaur answered the same question, a reporter asked Fritz what he needs to work on to continue improving.
“I need to work on getting faster and moving better, so unlike Alex I can do more movement,” Fritz joked.
Fritz was using humour, but you can be certain that he will always be thinking of ways to improve.
Source: ATP World Tour

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