With Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer not competing at the 2022 US Open, many feel that the men’s bracket might have a first-time winner for the third time in a row. American Taylor Fritz was one of the most popular names mentioned. Until he was knocked out in the first round by American qualifier Brandon Holt.
“Yeah, it sucks. I mean, feels awful,” Fritz said after the match. “Been playing really well. Had really high hopes. I feel like an idiot for thinking that I could win this thing, win the US Open. I can’t go out and play a match like that. It sucks. I feel awful.”
Fritz had a tremendous year heading into this tournament. He had risen into the top 10 and had made the Wimbledon semi-finals, where he lost to Rafal Nadal in a match that lasted over four hours and ended in a fifth-set tiebreaker. But tonight he was simply not the same player.
“Just my level tonight is just not kind of what I’ve come to expect of myself as a player.”
Some the start Fritz seemed out of sorts. He double-faulted twice in the first set. He mis-hit a few groundstrokes into the stands. He appeared to lack the same urgency and assertiveness that he’d had in the matches leading up to the 2022 US Open.
“Felt like in the beginning, probably like first two sets, it was just really, really windy, swirly,” he explained. “I came out trying to be aggressive. Just felt like I just couldn’t hit the ball at all. Just couldn’t feel confident taking a cut. The ball was moving around so much. I didn’t really know what to do.”
However, the wind didn’t seem to bother his opponent, 303rd-ranked qualifier Brandon Holt, who also happens to be the son of former US Open champion Tracy Austin. “I didn’t feel it was super windy. Sometimes it would make a difference on some slice serves or things like that. I don’t think it was a huge, huge factor.”
It’s possible Fritz was battling himself and his indecisiveness more than the wind. How Fritz responded to that challenge was to fall back to “Plan B of playing a lot safer, not really playing my style.” Which was obviously not a decision that suited him as Holt would go on to win 6-7 (3), 7-6 (1), 6-3, 6-4.
The two players are familiar with one another, often practicing together. It’s a familiarity that Fritz believes also may have made the match tougher. “It definitely makes it a lot tougher, the fact that we know each other so well, practice with each other a lot. It’s a big neutralizer, for sure. I probably would have preferred any of the other qualifiers, even though he was probably the lowest-ranked one.”
While Holt played fine tennis and hit 41 winners, the key to his victory may just have been that while his opponent was unraveling, the more inexperienced player never lost his composure despite competing in a main-draw match at a major for the first time.
“Had a pretty good momentum from playing three ‘quallies’ matches in a row. I felt pretty match tough.”
Holt was also made match tough by a hand injury that threatened his career and had him ranked in the 900s back in January. He was out for eight months and made the decision to head to Cancun to “basically start from scratch down there.” Over three consecutive, he won three straight ITF events and began climbing the ranks again.
But he never expected this, a victory over the 10th-seed in the first round of the US Open just a few months later. “It’s been a roller coaster ride. It’s been fun. I’m so happy. I’m thrilled to be here. To be in the second round is absolutely amazing. Such a big win, the biggest win of my career by far.”
Unfortunately, the victory is a huge loss for Fritz, who never seemed to truly process what was happening. “I didn’t feel like I was going to lose the match until I literally lost the last point,” he said in the media room after the match.
But with that last point played and Fritz now out of the tournament, it’s likely that we’re headed for yet another men’s Grand Slam without an American winner.