By Gideon Rubin
Tennis standout Taylor Fritz, a RSF resident, was still in eighth grade when it became apparent to him that within a year he’d find himself in an unusual role: A freshman leader on Torrey Pines’ perennially dominant tennis team.
The early returns suggest that Fritz is handling his leadership role just fine.
Last month he led the Falcons to an 18-0 Palomar League championship season, with his team positioned nicely for runs at the San Diego Section and state regional titles later this month.
Along the way, he’s excelled at some of the state’s most prestigious individual tournaments.
“I was excited to do it actually,” Fritz said of assuming a leadership role at Torrey Pines. “I was excited being the freshman coming in filling in for the No. 1 spot.”
Fritz said it helped knowing several players on the team.
“It wasn’t really that big of a deal, honestly,” Fritz said.
His body of work couldn’t have hurt.
Last summer, Fritz won the U.S.T.A. Boys 14-and-under national championship.
Fritz, who recently turned 15, is currently ranked No. 5 among 16-and-unders.
“It is unusual,” Torrey Pines coach Chris Numbers said of Fritz’s role. “It’s a unique situation but he’s an excellent high school player and he’s a national champion.”
Fritz leads a team loaded with young talent.
He’s among four players Numbers said are college prospects. Sophomores Max Liu and Charles Pei, and junior Henry Ji are the others.
On April 27, Fritz reached the finals of the prestigious Ojai tournament, becoming just the second freshman in tournament history to do so. Liu and Pei, the Falcons’ No. 2 and 3 singles players, reached the final 16 representing Torrey Pines as a doubles team amid an elite field of 64 teams.
“He’s soft-spoken, but he leads by example and they all respect him and his results and his tennis game,” Numbers said. “He takes the leadership on just by his daily routine, with his results and winning his matches.”
Fritz, whose parents are both former Grand Slam tennis players, has been playing since he was practically a toddler.
When Fritz was 10, he was already beating more polished older players. That’s when it was apparent that he was a special player, said his father, Guy Fritz, who’s a Torrey Pines assistant coach.
Taylor’s mother, Kathy May, was ranked as high as No. 8 in the world during her career.
“All the other kids got nervous in big matches but he didn’t get nervous,” Guy Fritz said. “He would beat guys that he really shouldn’t have beaten.”
Taylor Fritz has set himself apart in the amateur circuit with a powerful serve and big forehand shots to go along with exceptional tennis aptitude.
“He has a lot of weapons at a young age that a lot of (high school-level) players don’t have,” Numbers said.
Whereas most of his elite high school-level peers are solid and steady players who pounce on their opponents weaknesses, Fritz has the ability to force the issue with an aggressive playing style and powerful shots to back it up.
“He has weapons where he can just beat you off the court,” Numbers said.
“At the high school level he’s very scary right now. He can really hurt people.”
The Falcons will look to the 6-foot-3 Fritz to inflict some damage in the coming weeks. They play in the San Diego Section Division I tournament May 7-10, and hope to advance to the May 14-18 state regional tournament.
Fritz, Liu, Pei and Ji hope to compete for the section individual championship in a May 20-24 tournament.
Fritz acknowledged notable differences competing on the high school team compared to the U.S.T.A. circuit.
The most obvious difference is that he’s playing just one set against an opponent, which he said presents some challenges.
“It’s easy to lose your focus and get down and get in trouble, and then just like that you could lose a match,” he said.
More importantly, the high school level emphasizes a team aspect that’s not part of the U.S.T.A. experience.
“I like being under that pressure,” he said. “I like coming through and winning for the team.
“That’s more of a reward.”
Fritz acknowledged that there are pros and cons that come with having two professional tennis parents.
“There are a lot of benefits,” he said. “They know what they’re talking about. They know where I want to be later on, but the drawback I guess is that they’re my parents so it’s kind of hard to listen to them sometimes.”
On balance though, he believes it’s been a great benefit.
“They have all this good information that can help me with my game, so it’s definitely more of a help than it is a drawback.”