by William Turvey
Tennis in the United States has always been big business. From academies dotted across Florida, to hundreds of professional players, to tournament after tournament. And for a while, tennis had their big stars. But in the new era, we have three Americans who stand out, all fighting to be the new Andre Agassi or Pete Sampras or Andy Roddick. And of course, they’re Taylor Fritz, Frances Tiafoe, and Tommy Paul.
They’ve grown up and played against each other from a young age. Fritz often stays in Miami while Tiafoe and Paul have properties on Florida’s east coast. So, this means that they’re close.
In an interview with Frances Tiafoe after his quarterfinal win against Flavio Cobolli, Tiafoe said of compatriot Paul: “That’s my guy. He got me the last couple of times, so definitely want to try to win. Gonna be a good match, hope it’s packed.”
Cleary, these guys are good buddies. But unless you’re at the Davis Cup, tennis is an individual sport. It’s all about you. You can’t afford to make best friends with your compatriots. You need to focus on yourself. Your career. So, when you have these “big three” Americans entered in the Delray Beach Open draw, do things get competitive? Over several interviews with each of these players, we uncovered some different perspectives.
When asking Taylor Fritz about his upcoming final against Paul, we wondered does his nationality (being two Americans of the same era in the final) make a difference? Taylor said: “I’m not sure. For me in finals, I feel as though I’ve always approached it the same. Once you get this deep into the tournament you’re just more confident in your game and more relaxed and not feeling that pressure as much.”
Another quote that helped us learn more about Fritz’s mentality is in response to a similar question: “With you being the number one ranked American, and an all-American semi-final here in Delray. How do you handle the pressure?” Taylor said: “I think it helps that this week wouldn’t change—I think there’d be a lot more pressure if whoever wins this week takes the spot but um, I just try to focus, I try to treat each year like everyones starting at zero. I’m not looking at the rankings like up and down, I didn’t realize until yesterday that if I didn’t win today I wouldn’t be in the top 10.”
With other things Paul and Tiafoe said which we won’t share due to lack of space, it’s fair to say we got the same gist from all three. Yes, they are friends. Yes, they have known each other for a long time and care about each other. But as we said before, they’re still out for themselves. It is not so competitive that they are all constantly checking the rankings, constantly focused on who is going to move up to what place.
But when asked in Newport what the ultimate goal was, Paul said: “Be number one and win Grand Slams. I think that’s every tennis player’s dream.” And all three agree. They all want to be the one to hold that Grand Slam trophy in their hands, and be the one to have a big fat 1 next to their names, but at the end of the day, they’re compatriots and friends, and they’re still up for cracking jokes in the locker rooms and hanging out.