Rancho Santa Fe’s Taylor Fritz widely considered ‘new face of American tennis’

It’s being said in outlets such as USA Today and on ESPN: Taylor Fritz, the 17-year-old former Torrey Pines High School student, is “the most exciting young tennis player in the world,” “the savior of US men’s tennis,” “the next Andy Roddick,” and, according to the The Los Angeles Times, “the next big thing in tennis,” period.

So what does Fritz think of all of the recent attention being showered upon him? “It’s amazing,” he said, quickly adding that he tries not to let the adoration and hype go to his head. “It’s a great accomplishment, but a lot of people have been hyped up in the past who haven’t lived up to it. So I try not to get too cocky about it.”

As the first American in more than a decade to ascend to the No. 1 slot in the junior world rankings (the last person to capture that title was Roddick himself in 2003), Fritz is making a worldwide name for himself in the sport, which he first started playing at his home in Rancho Santa Fe when he was just 2 years old.

“My earliest memory was playing at the tennis court at my house with some college guys and my dad,” he remembered. “I think they took it easy on me.”

Fritz points to his parents, Guy and Kathy — former players themselves — as the beacons who led him to excel in the sport.

“I can definitely say without a doubt that I wouldn’t be where I am without the help my parents have given me,” he said of his mother and father, who made a name for themselves playing for a time on the national circuit. “They’ve always done what’s best for me and are great coaches. I’m very thankful.”

Along with the knowledge his parents imparted, Fritz has a strong work ethic and natural talent. That combination helped him locally, where he became a standout while attending Torrey Pines, and nationally, after he left the high school during his sophomore year and began taking online classes to fully focus on pursuing his athletic career.

Further cementing his status as a breakout star was a plum spot at Wimbledon earlier this month, where he was one of the esteemed event’s most talked-about names. (After watching him play, ESPN’s Peter Bodo wrote that Fritz is “tailor-made for today’s game” and “already generates outstanding power.”)

“Wimbledon was amazing,” said Fritz of his experience in England during one of the world’s most prestigious sporting events. “I played it last year and did well, so I was really excited to go back and compete again.”

While Fritz didn’t triumph as much as he would have liked — losing the boys’ singles semifinal to fellow American Reilly Opelka — he still considered the tournament, and the attention around it, a stepping stone. “It was still a great time and I loved being there.”

Next, Fritz has a major choice: Either head to USC and start his academic career, or forgo school and head straight into the pros. While he concedes that “anything can happen in the next couple months,” he’s leaning towards entering the professional level, which would lead to a whole new round of attention — and challenges.

He has some boldfaced names in his contact list to ask advice. “Mardy Fish and James Blake have both said that I can give them a call and ask them for advice whenever I want,” Fritz said of the two tennis titans. “I’ll probably take them up on that, since whatever they have to say would be extremely valuable to me.”

No matter what’s in store for Fritz in the coming months and years, he said he’s nevertheless grateful to continue to climb the ladder.

“It seems like I’ve had the most attention at the fastest rate,” Fritz said. “I never thought I’d be playing at the international level. I actually never imagined all of this would happen. I just kind of worked hard, and it’s all coming together. It’s coming so fast.

“Unlike all of my peers, the other top juniors, I was a nobody just a few years ago. A lot of people had attention throughout their careers, but this is all very new to me.”

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