Nainkin On Fritz: 'He Believes He Can Beat Anybody'
The 23-year-old is hoping to make his mark in the California desert after a tough season during which he suffered a freak knee injury at Roland Garros that required surgery.
ATPTour.com spoke to one of Fritz’s coaches, David Nainkin, about his charge’s season, competitive spirit, overthinking on court, FIFA and more.
From Taylor’s freak injury at Roland Garros to rushing back for Wimbledon and everything else, how do you see how the year has gone?
The French Open to Wimbledon was tough. I thought that he did as well as he could have at Wimbledon. The summer’s been probably below-par for him. He hasn’t done as well as he thought. Even going back to San Diego, that was disappointing for him last week. Losing to a good Jenson Brooksby at the US Open, that was a great match.
Taylor is probably not the marked man anymore. He is one of a lot of good young American tennis players. There are seven of them inside the Top 44 in the Race, it’s all bunched up. I think it’s great for American tennis, you have so many guys vying for the top spot who can do well and [especially] now with the Big Three not being here.
But since the US Open, we had three great weeks of training. He’s in a really good place with his game. He’s been practising well and I think he’s in a good place going into the next five weeks of tournaments.
You mentioned the young Americans. For any competitor, you want to be the marked guy. But on the other hand, the rise of Brooksby, Korda and Nakashima is motivation. How do you view the dynamic?
I think the more young American guys we have who are playing against each other and beating each other, the better for them, because they can all push each other. The higher the level they can push each other, the more they’re going to push each other. We’d like to see some rivalries between these guys playing each other in the quarters, semis of a Grand Slam. That’s really going to push them where one of them becomes a star.
I don’t think it’s a surprise. These guys haven’t come out of the blue between Jenson and Sebi and Brandon. There have been no surprises. They all know each other well. I wouldn’t say it’s unexpected.
In 2016 Taylor was named the ATP Star of Tomorrow presented by Emirates. Five years later, how different is he as a person and a player?
He’s the same person. He’s one of the best competitors I’ve seen and his game has actually evolved and improved. I don’t think he’s any different. He obviously got up there pretty quickly, and it’s been a battle over the past three or four years trying to break into the Top 20, Top 15. He’s kind of bumped his head a little bit in the third round of majors. I’d say that’s been the biggest hurdle for him, that he hasn’t really gotten through that.
Pre-Covid, he lost in the final of Acapulco against Nadal, had started to do a little better each year. A goal for this year was for him to make the second week of a Slam and he didn’t. There are two [ATP Masters] 1000s left and three or four Tour events… But he’s the same guy. He loves tennis, he wants to win and maybe at times wants to win too much.
With a little more experience, you have memories and a little more baggage in your brain and stuff to reflect on. Moving up that year, like every young guy, everything is new and you’re for sure swinging out a little bit more with reckless abandon. Is he playing with a little more caution at times now? Probably.
He’s always been very competitive. How difficult is it for someone like that when you don’t achieve a goal like reaching the second week of a major?
It’s disappointing, because you do set goals and that’s always disappointing when you don’t reach them. It is what it is, those are the facts. The competitive side, you can’t teach it. I think it’s part of your DNA.
Taylor plays Matteo Berrettini in the next round here in Indian Wells. To what extent is every week a big opportunity for him to earn that one big win that could propel him upwards?
He prepares as well as he can for every week. Indian Wells is a massive opportunity for him. He believes he can beat anybody in the draw and I’m not just saying that. He truly does believe that. He certainly has the game style to do that and we know how in tennis, things change very quickly. Maybe he felt the pressure the past couple years, but he is in a good space and he wants to win and is prepared.
A few years ago you told me how he is constantly thinking on the court. Is there a danger in thinking too much on the tennis court?
There can be, but he has the ability to process a lot of information, more than a lot of other players. And he maybe will overthink a strategy, and that can hurt you, saving certain shots for certain points and really getting ahead of yourself. You keep it really simple, play your game style. He can sometimes get away from that because he overthinks his strategy. We try to bring him back.
I’ll give an example. He says, ‘Then I’ll become too predictable’. I said, ‘That’s okay’. Being good is sometimes being predictable, even if the guy knows you’re doing what you’re going to do, keep doing it if it’s a winning strategy. Brilliance is boring.
What’s your favourite thing about Taylor off the court?
He’s a loyal guy. He doesn’t blame anybody. He takes full responsibility for everything he does. He’s well-behaved. It goes a long way when you talk about our industry. He takes everything on himself and he’s got a strong character. He’s an honourable guy.
Do you have any examples of his competitive spirit off the court?
He’s broken a few remote controls playing FIFA (laughs). I think when he was playing FIFA, he was trying to get into the Top 100 in the world and that took days off his life. The competitive side goes everywhere. Now he plays golf. That’s coming along. We hope he doesn’t get too caught up in the golf, but it’s good he likes to play golf.
Is it good that he has so many hobbies to take his mind off tennis?
I think so. He’s got good friends, a great physio and he’s always busy. He’s a smart guy. He’s involved in some businesses and investments. That is always good, I think.