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Future of U.S. tennis wins as Sock edges Fritz Down Under

January 19, 2016 10:53 AM

By Matt Cronin, special to USTA.com

MELBOURNE – Few 18-year-olds can come out at a Grand Slam and nearly knock off one of the sport’s top competitors, but Taylor Fritz came very close in the first round of the Australian Open.

Fellow American Jack Sock, the No. 25 seed, came through on Tuesday, beating Fritz, 6-4, 3-6, 0-6, 6-3, 6-4, on a fairly hot day. The 23-year-old Nebraska native, who has been sick over the past couple weeks, stayed composed throughout against his young challenger, staying aggressive – a good plan, because Fritz didn't back off at all.

“He’s a great ball striker, he has a good serve and definitely his future is ahead of him,” said Sock of the lanky 6-foot-4 right-hander, who finished 2015 as the world’s top junior. “With his experience, it’s his first Grand Slam, and with more matches he can become a good player.

“He plays relaxed, he just knows his game, fairly one dimension in the sense that he hits big, he’s got a big serve and flat. On the courts they are pretty fast, which works well out here. With every match and more years on tours, he will be very good.”

Last year the San Diego native had a terrific year in the juniors, reaching the French Open final and winning the US Open. In September, Fritz turned pro, and he wanted to go head to head with the more experience pros. He won the USTA Pro Circuit’s Sacramento Challenger, the Pro Circuit’s Fairfield Challenger and reached the final at another Challenger in Champaign, Ill.

This season in Australia, Fritz won an Australian Challenger in Happy Valley, beating the No. 100 seed Dudi Sela in the final. He then arrived at Melbourne and won three matches to qualify for his first Grand Slam main draw.

After Tuesday’s match, Fritz admitted that he was a little disappointed, not because he realizes that his foe is very good player, but because he was right there.

In the third set, Sock was feeling woozy and looked like he might have had to retire. But he stuck in there and once the fourth set began, he felt better physically. And as the match progressed, Sock jumped on his return when he could, while Fritz couldn't pick it up. In the end, Sock stayed cool and composed and grabbed the match in the fifth set.

Some players are just happy to be there. Not Fritz, who thought he had his more experienced compatriot.

“I am really disappointed, but I was really strong over the past two weeks,” Fritz said. “I played really tough and competed really well. But when you lose in that situation you can be disappointed.”

Currently ranked No. 155, Fritz should soon race up the charts. As he said, he still has a long way to go, but to qualify at a Grand Slam and nearly upset the No. 22 player in the world shows that he is already talented. He believes that he should be competing on the ATP Tour.

“I proved that I belong at that level,” Fritz said. “It was the first time that I played three-out-of-five sets and the mentality, it’s different. I have played two-out-of-three sets my whole life. You get a feel for the strategy and what to think. It’s different and hopefully I can win a few of those matches. But I should be here.”

Fritz, who is being coached by the experienced David Nainkin, next head to Hawaii for a Challenger, and then he will play the tour stops in Memphis, Tenn., and Delray Beach, Fla., in February.

Sock, meantime, is still kicking at the Australian Open. Last week, he smoked No. 8 David Ferrer in the semis at Auckland, but then he caught a strep throat and had to retire in the final against Roberto Bautista Agut. Still, he believes that he improved a great deal in 2015, winning Houston, reaching the fourth round of Roland Garros, and advancing to the final of Stockholm and the semis of Basel. He said that during the offseason that his body has gotten stronger and, on court, he is smarter.

Sock will face the Czech Lukas Rosol in the second round, and if he wins, he may have to face off against No. 4 seed and 2014 Australian Open champion Stan Wawrinka in the third round. That will be a very tough test, but this year, Sock will have a legitimate chance to pull off an upset.

“I feel I’m confident, where my game is and my body is,” Sock said. “I feel pretty good.”