Coaches Corner

Russell On What Fritz Has 'Deep Down Inside'

Frtitz to play Alcaraz in Miami quarter-finals
March 29, 2023
Taylor Fritz is pursuing his second ATP Masters 1000 title in Miami.
Peter Staples/ATP Tour
Taylor Fritz is pursuing his second ATP Masters 1000 title in Miami. By Andrew Eichenholz

Taylor Fritz enjoyed a breakthrough season in 2022, winning his first ATP Masters 1000 title at Indian Wells and qualifying for the Nitto ATP Finals for the first time. The American has picked up this year where he left off.

The 25-year-old helped lead the United States to the United Cup title and is now 20-5 on the season. After defeating Holger Rune on Tuesday to reach the Miami Open presented by Itau quarter-finals, he climbed to sixth in the Pepperstone ATP Live Race To Turin. Next up will be defending champion and World No. 1 Carlos Alcaraz caught up with Fritz’s coach, Michael Russell, about his consistently improving level, what people do not know about the American and more.

Taylor had an amazing year in 2022 and it would have been easy for him to potentially struggle a little bit this year after that breakthrough. But he seems very within himself at that level this year. How do you see it?
It’s been great. A lot of times that freshman year breaking into the Top 10 sometimes the expectation and even self-doubt can sometimes creep in. But Taylor’s always had that self confidence.

He’s got a great team around him as well that helps remind him how good he is and we continue to work on everything and continue to progress and not get complacent. That’s a big part of it. You set the goals and you set Top 10, set Top 5, but you have to keep changing those goals and creating goals, even individual tournament goals, ranking goals and most importantly, process goals. Just improving your game.

You’re known for how hard you work with your players. After a year like last year did you take it up a notch? Did you change your plan with him?
It’s a balance. It’s a fine line. I think we can always work harder, but you also have to work smart. Taylor is a big guy, almost 6’5” and the way he plays is very explosive, powerful tennis, so we have to gear the training around that and then still have the endurance factor.

[It is about] explosive endurance and continuing to be able to play deep in tournaments and also deep in matches. That’s the ultimate goal, being able to play seven three-out-of-five set matches in a Grand Slam and keep that endurance.

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What is something that people don’t realise about Taylor or his game?
Personally he’s a very laid back guy, pretty soft spoken, more introverted. But when it comes to the actual competition and tennis aspect, he’s one of the best competitors I’ve seen and the public can see he’ll do anything to try to win that last point.

Sometimes it’s hard to mesh the two because you see a guy who’s pretty laid back and doesn’t show a ton of emotion when he’s playing, like really getting fired up. But deep down inside he has that burning desire the whole time.

Now that he has installed himself at the upper echelons of the game, what is the next step in his progression? How do you go from where he is now to climb even higher?
Number one is staying healthy, which we all know sometimes you can’t control that, or a lot of times you can. Just continuing to stay healthy with all the impact of the Tour, the travel, the different court surfaces, different balls to the different weeks.

It makes it challenging, so it’s really important that he stays healthy and then continuing to increase the strength, the stamina, his speed, so that his explosiveness and his power game can become even more powerful and more consistent and he can sustain that throughout the course of a whole year, so you don’t get as many fluctuations through the year, through tournaments. You try to stabilise those.

What’s the best match you’ve seen him play?
You have to dissect it by the years. Let’s just take this year, 2023. He’s played some really good matches. He played the finals, almost the whole match, for a set and three quarters against Kecmanovic in the finals of Delray. Taylor was up 6-0, 5-3 and had match points and Miomir hit some amazing shots to save match points.

But for that set and three quarters was some of the best tennis I’ve ever seen Taylor play. Literally every forehand he hit was a winner and every first serve he put in the court didn’t come back. When that combination is happening, I don’t know anybody in the world who would be able to beat him.

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What’s your favourite part about coaching him?
He’s very respectful and he listens. He’s very stubborn, which you expect every great player to be. But he does listen and he does absorb and the communication factor, there’s a lot of synergy there, which is great. So there’s not any question as to what’s being said or if something’s not understood, we have a dialogue about it.

What’s the most stubborn thing he’s done while you’ve been coaching him?
We can say playing the finals of Indian Wells when he couldn’t even walk. That was extremely stubborn because we all, just based on his feelings and what he was explaining to us, it was the most excruciating pain he’s ever felt in his life.

We didn’t want him to have a career-ending injury not just for tennis, but for quality of life. He insisted on playing and obviously the rest we know what happened. He’s extremely stubborn on that front. A lot of times he’ll make decisions that he thinks are best, but usually the team goes along with it.

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If you could snap your fingers and make one thing happen with him what would it be and why?
I would love for Taylor to win a Grand Slam and be No. 1 in the world. That’s [the] main goal of course. I would love for him to have unlimited explosiveness and never get tired, ever. It’s a very open-ended question, so there is a lot of ambiguity there!

In hindsight, the physicality part, I would love it if he could play for eight hours and have more explosiveness than anybody in the history of tennis. Then I think the other two goals of winning a Grand Slam [and reaching No. 1] would happen for sure, but that’s our goal. I think he’s been working hard and that’s the ultimate goal.

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