Taylor Fritz came back from a set down to win a battle of two of the brightest stars in American tennis on Saturday at the BNP Paribas Open. Beginning his title defence in Indian Wells, the World No. 5 was challenged by the fast-rising Ben Shelton but ultimately used his big-match experience to navigate through a 4-6, 6-4, 6-3 victory.
The pair’s first ATP Head2Head meeting lived up to the hype, as both showcased their electric brand of attacking tennis. While the competitors traded big serves and booming forehands in an entertaining match on the packed stadium court, it was Fritz’s patience and poise that made the difference in the desert.
“He’s a really good player,” Fritz said of Shelton in his on-court interview, after sharing a warm embrace with his opponent at net. “I expected him to come out serving well. He was playing well. He had nothing to lose so I did expect him to come out with a really high level.
“I think I was ready for it. I just had to regroup and find a way to problem-solve. He’s an incredible player, an extremely tough first match to play, so I’m happy to get through it.”
The 25-year-old, five years Shelton’s senior, locked in from the baseline to earn the two crucial breaks that decided the match. They came in the final game of set two, when Shelton missed a short forehand, and the fifth game of the decider, when the former Florida Gator could not handle a dipping shot from Fritz at net.
Both players dominated on serve throughout the one-hour, 52-minute match, each winning close to 80 per cent of first-serve points. But Fritz’s ability to attack the Shelton second serve — and protect his own — made the difference. The fifth seed won 84 per cent of his second-serve points (26/31), while Shelton was under 50 per cent (16/34).
Balance of Power won by @Taylor_Fritz97 💪
Fritz lifts his #InAttack % in sets 2⃣ & 3⃣, Shelton’s ⬇️
Even more impressive in the 🌬️🌪️#InAttack shows the percentage of shots played in attack #TennisInsights | @atptour | @BNPPARIBASOPEN pic.twitter.com/5MEBrvazS1
— Tennis Insights (@tennis_insights) March 12, 2023
The stadium crowd played its part in the match, too, with plenty of opportunities to support both players after some highlight-reel points. But the biggest cheers were reserved for SoCal native Fritz.
“It’s amazing,” he said of the atmosphere. “It’s such a great feeling coming back, walking onto the court and then walking back out after the match is over. It’s such an amazing feeling just to feel the crowd and be back home.”
Now on a seven-match winning streak in Indian Wells, Fritz will bid to extend his run against 30th seed Sebastian Baez or Aussie Rinky Hijikata in the third round. Like Shelton, Hijikata was also a college star, at North Carolina, before turning pro.
Shelton was seeking to match his biggest career win, a one-sided victory over then-World No 5 Casper Ruud last August at Cincinnati. The American officially turned pro soon after that event.