Novak Djokovic (Getty Images)
Taylor Fritz left Roland Garros in a wheelchair this year, but his return to Paris turns out to be a much happier experience as he reached the quarter-finals of the Paris Masters after beating Cameron Norrie 6-3, 7- 6 (7/3) Thursday.
The 24-year-old American’s reward for ousting the 14th-seeded Briton is a meeting with world number one Novak Djokovic, who beat Fritz in five sets at this year’s Australian Open.
Djokovic will have had mixed feelings about how he got to the Masters the last eight as he came to Paris saying he needed to train after a seven week hiatus.
However, his third-round opponent, fiery Frenchman Gaël Monfils, withdrew ahead of the game due to a groin injury he sustained in his three-set victory over compatriot Adrian Mannarino on Wednesday.
Fritz is in great shape as the season draws to a close, with the big server reaching the semifinals at Indian Wells and the final in St. Petersburg last Sunday.
Fritz – who tore his meniscus on the last point of his loss to Dominik Koepfer at Roland Garros in June – says his running is due to his mentality.
“Definitely just my aggressive mindset, the way I handle situations,” he said.
“I don’t play scared and tight important situations.
“My forehand has truly become such a weapon I can count on.”
As for the challenge facing him in the form of Djokovic, Fritz shows few signs of intimidation.
“I mean, it’s going to be tough,” he said.
“You know, the third time this year.
“I feel like the first two of this year were pretty close games.
“Obviously now I’m playing my best tennis so I think if there was a time it would be now that I can really push it.”
Norrie’s loss has left the 26-year-old Indian Wells champion needing results to continue his way to Paris if he is to remain a contender for the season-ending ATP Finals.
Casper Ruud and Hubert Hurkacz can both seal the last two places – the former if he wins later on Thursday and the latter if he wins his quarter-final on Friday.
Norrie says he will always go to Turin – where the final takes place – as one of the two substitutes, even if he fails to qualify automatically.
South Africa-born Norrie was very proud of his season which saw him go from obscurity at 71 in the world at the turn of the year to 13.
“It’s been a great season so far, and I’ve really enjoyed the runs I’ve had and the tournaments I’ve played,” he said.
If Fritz went any further, he wouldn’t face Koepfer – who would bring back unfortunate memories – in Paris as the German’s good Masters run ended on Thursday.
Koepfer, who had lived up to the term of lucky loser – having secured his spot when Jenson Brooksby retired on Monday – after beating former world number one Andy Murray and then ninth seed Felix Auger-Aliassime.
The southpaw looked like he wanted to keep his run when he won the opening set against Polish seventh seed Hurkacz.
However, Wimbledon semi-finalist Hurkacz recovered to beat his 27-year-old opponent 4-6, 7-5, 6-2.
Hurkacz will face Australia’s Jack Duckworth – who beat his lucky losing compatriot Alexei Popyrin – in the quarter-finals.
Later on Thursday, Masters title holder Daniil Medvedev – who dashed Djokovic’s dreams of a Grand Slam sweep beating him in the US Open final – will play the tricky American Sebastian Korda.