Taylor Fritz stunned Rafael Nadal 6-3, 7-6 (7/5) on Sunday to win the ATP Indian Wells Masters and end the 21-time Grand Slam champion’s perfect 20-0 run to start 2022.
Fritz, ranked 20th in the world, claimed his second career title and his first at the elite Masters 1000 level while denying Nadal a record-equalling 37th Masters crown.
The 24-year-old American achieved his biggest triumph despite an injured right ankle that was so painful when he tested it Sunday morning he didn’t think he’d be able to play.
“This is just one of those childhood dreams, winning this tournament especially, Indian Wells, this is one of those childhood dreams you never even think can come true,” the Southern California native said, fighting back tears.
The 35-year-old Nadal was also pushing himself through pain, twice receiving treatment on his upper body during the match.
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“Obviously there’s some stuff going on,” Fritz said of Nadal’s struggles, but that didn’t dim his joy in becoming the first American men’s champion at Indian Wells since Andre Agassi in 2001 and the youngest Indian Wells men’s winner since Novak Djokovic in 2011.
Nadal had already said he would skip next week’s Miami Masters to give his body a rest and prepare for the clay court season.
After fearing a foot injury that halted his 2021 campaign might end his career, the Spaniard claimed a record-setting 21st Grand Slam singles title with an epic comeback victory over Daniil Medvedev in the Australian Open final, then won the title at Acapulco.
Battling to the end, he saved one match point in the 10th game of the second set, but in a tense tiebreaker that decided it all Fritz proved too much.
After Nadal spun a forehand wide to give up another match point, Fritz put it away with yet another of his big forehand winners.
Fritz’s fitness concerns were at the forefront when the American fell on the very first point of the match.
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But otherwise he showed no ill-effects as he broke Nadal twice to race to a 4-0 led in the opening set in 19 minutes.
Nadal, coming off a draining three-set semifinal victory over 18-year-old compatriot Carlos Alcaraz, looked sluggish, but he appeared to have found his range when he held at love to make it 4-1.
But he was unable to make any inroads on Fritz’s serve until the American served for the set at 5-2 and Nadal converted his only break chance of the set when Fritz sent a forehand long.
However, the Spaniard was unable to build any momentum, immediately surrendering the break and the set after 39 minutes.
Nadal, who had had a quick adjustment from the trainer on court against Alcaraz to address discomfort around the left side of his chest, took a medical timeout and left the court indicating the same area to the trainer.
But it was the world number four who gained the upper hand in the second set with a break for 2-1, Fritz giving him a first chance with an ill-timed double fault, coming up with a big serve then falling to a forehand winner from Nadal.
But the American broke back immediately and saved four break points in the next game and they went with serve to the tiebreaker.