LONDON (Reuters) - So rapid has been American teenager Taylor Fritz’s rise up the ATP rankings that setting targets has become futile exercise.
As he prepares for his first grand slam as an automatic entry at the French Open, the 18-year-old could be forgiven feeling a little giddy. But that is not his style.
A year ago he was ranked 821st and thought a place in the top 200 could be achievable by the end of 2015.
He smashed that, climbing to 174.
The top 100 looked a reasonable objective in 2016, now that’s has been upgraded to top 50 after he reached 69th place by April, having become the youngest American to reach a Tour final since Michael Chang in 1989.
His run to the Memphis Open final, where he lost to Japan’s former U.S. Open runner-up Kei Nishikori, made people sit up and take notice and led to predictions that he could be the player to fill the void left by Andy Roddick.
“Yeah, I have to keep setting new goals,” the teenager who grew up watching Pete Sampras told Reuters.
”A year ago I would have thought it pretty crazy if you had told me I would be top 100, definitely would have been shocked.
“But now I‘m targeting the top 50.”
Fritz boasts a powerful game with a huge forehand and, like Sampras, a potent serve.
Like many young players stepping into the senior ranks, however, it has been the physicality of the ATP Tour that has been the biggest change from the juniors.
“That transition is really tough so I’ve worked really hard to become strong enough to play at this level,” he said.
“For other people it might be the mental side but for me that’s something I‘m already strong at. For me it was the physicality, you have to be at it non-stop.”
Fritz, whose mother Kathy (May) was a former WTA top-10 player, is one of a bunch under 21s who are making exciting strides this year. Australian Nick Kygrios leads the way while 19-year-olds Alexander Zverev of Germany and Croatia’s Borna Coric are inside the top 50.
“It’s a huge honor to be talked about as part of this new generation who I know are great players,” Fritz said. “We will all push each other to become great players.”
Not surprisingly 14-times grand slam champion Sampras has been asked to cast his eye over Fritz. And he clearly sees something of himself in the youngster.
“He’s got a great game,” Sampras told ATPWorldTour.com.
”He hits the ball big, has a monster forehand. I haven’t seen him play that much, but he’s got a few big weapons.
“He’s on his way and he’s got the right attitude, willing to learn and listen. He’s got a great future.”
Fritz’s target for Roland Garros might have to be on the low side, after two chastening clay court defeats to cagey Czech veteran Radek Stepanek in Madrid and Rome.
He did claim a clay court win in Nice this week, before losing to Gilles Simon, but it is on Wimbledon’s fast-paced lawns, where Fritz could make the biggest impact.
”I‘m very excited for the grass court season and will play the whole season,“ he said. ”Wimbeldon was where I had my breakthrough in the juniors, I made semis as an unseeded player and after that I did better and better in juniors.
“It’s a place that has a lot of good memories for me.”
Editing by Pritha Sarkar