Fritz Ends Nadal's Perfect Season To Win Indian Wells Title

San Diego native nearly pulled out ahead of match with ankle injury

Taylor Fritz claimed his first ATP Masters 1000 title by handing Rafael Nadal his first loss of the 2022 season in the BNP Paribas Open final on Sunday. In the biggest match of his blossoming career, the American powered to a 6-3, 7-6(5) victory to win his second ATP Tour trophy.

The 24-year-old launched an all-out attack on the Spaniard to deny him a record-tying 37th ATP Masters 1000 title and end his personal-best 20-match win streak on the season.

But Fritz almost never took the court for this career-defining victory. After tweaking his ankle late in his semi-final win over Andrey Rublev on Saturday, he reaggravated the problem in his warmup Sunday.

"I can't even begin to describe how ridiculous it is that I was able to play how I could play today," said Fritz, choking back tears after fulfilling his childhood dream of winning in his native Southern California. "I've never experienced worse pain in my life before a match.

"We did a lot of work leading up to the match and I went through a roller coaster of emotions before the match, from thinking there was no way I could possibly play to then doing all this work on the ankle, doing so much stuff to it.... I came out here and it didn't really affect me at all."

Fritz went back out for a second warmup on the outer courts at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden, but after the session, his full team advised him not to play the match.

Speaking on Tennis Channel, Coach Paul Annacone said: "All three of his team, me, Mike Russell and [fitness trainer] Wolfgang Oswald all said 'Do not play this match.' He said 'I am playing. I can do this. I want to get out on the court with Rafa and see if I can overcome.' "

After a lightning fast start from the American, it was Nadal who was trying to overcome him. Fritz came out firing, racing to a 4-0 lead in the opener before Nadal took a medical timeout in between sets.

Nadal began to soak up his opponent's pace in set two, finding his footing by extending rallies and staying solid from the baseline. But after four break points went begging at 2-2, and another at 4-4, Fritz began to reassert himself as the dominant force on Stadium 1.

The Spaniard saved a championship point at 4-5, paving the way for a tension-filled tie-break of the highest quality from both men. Nadal began to step up his aggression on the key points, but Fritz found an even higher gear and ultimately finished the match with a serve-forehand combo.

Fritz, playing in his first Masters 1000 final, became the first American men's champion at Indian Wells since Andre Agassi in 2001 and the youngest Indian Wells men's champ since Novak Djokovic in 2011.

"I'm going to have to hold back tears for every single interview I do, every single on-court speech," Fritz added. "This is going to be tough because I'm such a happy crier.

"Winning this tournament especially, Indian Wells, this is one of those childhood dreams that you just never think can come true. I just keep saying, 'No, no. Just no way it's real.' "

The 20th seed came out with an attacking game plan that was aided by a heavy helping of second serves from Nadal early on. Powering through windy conditions — though nothing as severe as Saturday night — the American took the initiative from the start and scored a break on his fourth break point of the opening game. Similar tactics earned him a second straight break, both consolidated with love holds.

Fritz won half (16/32) of his points on the return in the set, according to Infosys ATP Stats, breaking in three of five return games. Nadal created and converted his first break point of the opener to close to 5-3, but Fritz answered back with the help of some Nadal errors to seal the set on the return.

After leaving the court for treatment in between sets, Nadal edged in front in the second with the first break. But Fritz broke back straightaway, then survived those four break points to lead 3-2.

On his third opportunity of that game, Nadal spurned a golden chance at a passing shot after a net cord sent Fritz scrambling. But the American showed great poise and great hands to bat a volley past the net-rushing Spaniard, winning a brief but thrilling exchange from close quarters.

Unable to match the American’s powerful play, Nadal instead found success by soaking up his opponent’s power and picking the right moment to step in. 

But he changed tactics in the tie-break as the two men went blow for blow in some of the most entertaining points of the contest. With Nadal up a mini-break at 5/4, Fritz won the last three points of the match before hitting the deck in celebration.

The victory equals Fritz's best career win in terms of ATP Rankings, matching his result over then-World No. 4 Alexander Zverev in the 2021 Indian Wells quarters. But this was Fritz's first win in nine matches against the 'Big Three,' levelling his ATP Head2Head record at 1-1 against Nadal.

"I've lost these matches against the big guys my whole life," he said. "It's always felt like they were just unbeatable. So to do it on the biggest stage, there's no other way. To win a big title, you've got to beat the best. He was unbeaten this year. 

"I hope he's OK. Obviously there's some stuff going on. I can't imagine how the body is feeling after 20-something matches."

Fritz is projected to rise to a career-high ATP Ranking of No. 13 following the victory, taking the title of No. 1 American back from Reilly Opelka.

Nadal, who will next compete in Monte-Carlo, will move up to No. 3.