Nearly two hours after his first match point, Tommy Paul overcame longtime friend Taylor Fritz in one of the most dramatic matches of the 2023 season Friday night, triumphing 6-3, 6-7(2), 7-6(2) at the Abierto Mexicano Telcel presentado por HSBC.
“I couldn’t be happier,” Paul said after clinching the semi-final victory on his fourth match point after three hours and 25 minutes. “Obviously looking forward to making the body feel a little better tomorrow. The goal for this year was to get the ranking up and get more trophies. I only have one trophy on Tour between singles and doubles.
“You don’t get trophies unless you’re in the final, and hopefully I can play another good match tomorrow and get the winner’s trophy.”
After letting a match point slip on serve at 5-4 in the second set, missing a deep overhead off the bounce, Paul needed a comeback of his own, trailing 0-2 and 1-3 in the third. In a battle of attrition in the Acapulco humidity, both men saved break points in their final service game — Paul escaping four break points at 5-5 and Fritz erasing two match points at 5-6 — before Paul closed it out after taking a 5/0 lead in the final tie-break.
“You have to [dig deep]. It’s never going to be easy against Fritz, he’s unreal,” the seventh-seeded Paul added. “He doesn’t give you any points throughout the whole match, you feel like you have to work for everything.
“Obviously he got up a break in the third there and it was weird, I started feeling my body a little bit and doing some weird serves, and I don’t know if he loved it. And then I think something happened with his stomach too. I think I got a little lucky there that we were both struggling, not just me.”
Over the course of the match, Paul made Fritz pay for his 55 per cent first-serve percentage, with Fritz hovering around that mark for the entirety of the contest. Paul was particularly dominant in the opening set, forcing Fritz to defend and dictating with his athletic baseline game, but there was little to choose between the competitors in the final two sets until one-sided tie-breaks decided both.
There were 27 combined break points in the topsy-turvy match, with Paul converting four from 14 and Fritz winning three from 13.
Just over one month since his breakout run to the Australian Open semi-finals, Paul advanced the biggest final of his blossoming career, his first at the ATP 500 level. The 25-year-old won his lone previous title match in 2021 at the Stockholm ATP 250. He is up five spots to No. 18 this week in the Pepperstone ATP Live Rankings — a mark which would match his career high.
Paul, who earned his 100th tour-level win by beating Michael Mmoh in the Acapulco second round, will face eighth seed Alex de Minaur in Saturday’s final. The Aussie closed the evening’s play with a 3-6, 7-5, 6-2 win against fourth seed Holger Rune, a match that ended near 3 a.m. local time.
Third seed Fritz saw his seven-match win streak come to a close, a run that dated back to his Delray Beach title triumph. He remains at No. 5 in the Pepperstone ATP Live Rankings after reaching the Top 5 for the first time on Monday, though Andrey Rublev could pass him by winning the Dubai final against Daniil Medvedev on Saturday.
The ATP Head2Head series between Paul and Fritz is now level at 2-2, but the pair first matched up in 2011 at the USTA Boys’ 14s National Championships, which Paul won at age 14. They also met twice in junior Grand Slam finals, with Paul winning at Roland Garros and Fritz claiming the title at the US Open, both in 2015.