American tennis player Taylor Fritz advanced to the second round of Japan Open Tennis Championships with a 6-2, 6-7(2), 6-1 victory over Australia's James Duckworth, here on Wednesday.
The third seed Fritz was forced to pull out ahead of the Seoul event last week due to Covid-19. After a week in full quarantine, he was cleared to make the two-hour flight to Tokyo in the nick of time, the morning of his opening-round match against Duckworth.
"(I'm feeling) better than I thought I would be."I don't feel amazing, but I'm really happy that I was able to go through all that and still show up and win my match,'' Fritz said in his post-match press conference.
The American was too sick to even exercise in his room for much of his quarantine period, but began to work out over the past three days. Still, he maintained a positive mindset entering Japan, where he had an opportunity to improve on his 10th place position in the Pepperstone ATP Live Race To Turin.
"I felt, for whatever reason, confident that I was going to be able to come out of lockdown and strike the ball well," said Fritz, who is seeking his debut at the ATP Finals.
"I was more concerned about the cardio and my conditioning after being really sick and not having been able to do anything. Luckily the court was very fast, and so we were not playing long points, so physically I was okay," he added.
Fritz dominated the opening set and had two break points early in the second, but had to recover from a break down to force a tie-break, in which he struggled with his control. Duckworth began the deciding set full of confidence and created an early 15/40 opening on return, but the American erased the opportunity, using the escape to launch a run of five games to seal the match.
"A little bit scary in the third, a couple of break points. But aside from that I played well," said Fritz, who fired 24 aces in winning 88 per cent (50/57) of his first-serve points.
"My mindset was never that he was beating me, or up. I let some chances slip in the second set that I shouldn't have. I played a really bad game on my serve. He definitely was playing better, playing some good points, but I just told myself in the third to just keep doing what I was doing. I felt like all the chances were there in the second set; I felt like I was better. I just didn't convert, then let him convert on my serve and didn't play the best tie-break," he added.
Noting his standing in the Race To Turin, the American said he would have been devastated to miss both Seoul and Tokyo with Covid-19. After the win, he was thankful to still be playing in what he called one of his favourite tournaments.
Fritz will meet Japanese lucky loser Hiroki Moriya in the second round, with their matchup scheduled for Thursday night in the Ariake Colosseum.
"It'll be fun," he said of the matchup against the home favourite, one of two Japanese men in the second round, alongside Rio Noguchi.
"I'm going to have to play well. I'm obviously still feeling the effects of everything I've been through, so I just have to take it one match at a time, just go out there and compete. I'm excited to play at night in front of the home crowd," he concluded.
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