“Homosexuality in men’s tennis would be accepted” – An in depth interview with Taylor Fritz

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When Taylor Fritz was a teenager, he only saw four or five players capable of winning a Grand Slam.

Today, the North-American sees the picture differently: “Big titles are more winnable than they used to be.”

In an in-depth interview with CLAY, during the Diriyah Tennis Cup in Riyadh, Fritz doesn’t mince his words on non-sporting topics that are usually off-limits for discussion. He does so about male homosexuality, perhaps the biggest taboo in tennis: “It’s strange (that no top player has come out), because I think it would be accepted. No one on the tour would have a problem with that.”

Fritz diagnoses the sport’s obligation to capture new audiences and younger fans, mainly attracted by drama and matchups between players who don’t get along.

For the 25-year-old, players should have the freedom to destroy their racquets (without harming others). That’s basically what “the fans love to see.”

– How would you describe the state of your ego at the moment?

– I feel I’m a pretty confident person. In order to be good, or to be great in anything that you do I think you need to be very confident and have a bit of an ego, because you need to believe that you can be the best and is never gonna happen if you don’t actually believe in yourself. That’s very important. I wouldn’t say I’m crazy over the top but I definitely have a lot of confidence in myself.

– How is the ego of the tennis player in general?

– It’s different for everybody. I’m not gonna give names, you know I think some players have a very big ego on their shoes, and I think some players maybe are not confident enough in their abilities and don’t have higher standards for themselves.

– In 2023 it may be 20 years without a US-born men’s Grand Slam champion. Do you feel that extra pressure being the best player of your country in the ranking?

– It’s been pretty tough to win Slams in this era (laughs). If there is people putting pressure over me, I don’t really feel that. I have very high expectations for myself, and all the pressure that I feel is always pressure that I’m putting on myself. I’m doing it for me.

– Having faced all the Big Three in your career, who do you think is the toughest to play against?

– It’s really tough to say. It depends on the conditions for sure. I’ve never played Rafa in clay courts, but we know is tough as it gets. Federer on faster surfaces. Novak on hard court indoor. Those three are the toughest versions you can get.

– It was against Nadal that you lived two moments of contrast in 2022. The first became the most important title of your career in Indian Wells. And in front of your home crowd. Not even in your dreams.

– That was insane. I do what I do for that kind of moments. It’s the reason why I play tennis. Before the match I was not even sure how I was going to be able to play it, and then I’m winning. I was twenty in the world. A crazy title to me.

– And how tough the defeat in Wimbledon was for you? In a tremendous scene, his family even asked Nadal to withdraw from the match due to his pain and injuries.

– I felt like from the ground, forehand, backhand, movements, he was normal. Maybe for a couple of games it seemed like different, but in the fourth and the fifth set he was getting the balls back that a lot of people normally wouldn’t. The biggest difference with the injury was the serve. He started to serve maybe ten miles per hour slower, but I actually felt I was returning the serve better when he was serving it harder, because it was coming at me more and I had more pace to work with. When he started serving it softer because of the injury, I had to step up in the court more and I also had to swing more on the return because I had less pace to work with. So it sounds weird, but I actually felt like it was almost a bit tougher for me to hit strong-deep returns off of the softer serve.

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– People kept the “Fritz lost against an injured player”.

– People don’t know tennis as we know tennis. They thought, you know, Rafa slicing all of his backhands, was because he had bad abs. Any match Rafa he has played against me, he slices his backhands. It is his strategy, it’s smart. He doesn’t want to hit over a backhand and then I have a shoulder high forehand than I can hit. He always slices against me to give me nothing to work with. I saw a million people like: ‘Oh, he couldn’t hit backhands and you lost to him’. No, like, that’s how he plays me and the only difference in the game was his serve and that actually made it tougher for me.

– Will you guys feel a sense of relief when the entire Big Three retires?

– I wouldn’t say relief, but I definitely feel like as stands right now even, the big tittles are so much more winnable than they used to be. I’m more excited cause I feel like getting this titles aren’t as hard as to get as before. The door is already slowly opening a bit more and you can see it: there has been so many more Masters 1000 winners over the past two years than probably ever. When I was 18, 20 years old, basically only four or five people could get big events.

– In the debate of smashing racquets, you are one of those who believe that it should be allowed.

– Here is how I see it: the younger fans, they like when people are being crazy. But there’s levels to it. You can’t put anybody in danger, you can’t smack a ball into the audience, or throw a racquet that might hit somebody. If you are smashing your racquet on the court and it doesn’t leave your hand and there is no people really close to you that might be affected by the flying broken pieces, I don’t see a problem with it. If your racquet company wants to fine you, that’s ok, but I just think the fans love that. There’s a reason why all of Nick’s (Kyrgios) matches are packed. At times, do some players go to far with it, of course I don’t want people acting insane, but I think in tennis we punish things the fans like. As sport we need to be attracting a younger audience.

– Not a big percentage of tennis fans are young?

– What I’m saying right now, I know that’s gonna be tons of people like: ‘I don’t agree with you, I hate when I see a player smashing racquets’. Well, if you say that, I’m sure you are above the age of 50. Like, I’m sure. And you are like a very die-hard tennis fan and I respect that, but yeah, the average of the tennis fan is too old and we do need to attract younger people. This die-hard tennis fans they like it to keep it very classy and polite and wants no one doing anything, I respect that, but they should also want what is best for the sport and that’s attracting a younger audience. What attracts people of my age is the drama. Let’s put it this way: anytime players have some type of beef, maybe don’t like each other, people are always so much more excited for when they play. Let’s be totally honest. It’s a matchup because you know there’s something going on with them.

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– And do you have any kind of grudge with anyone?

– (laughs) No. In that sense, is tough, because I perfectly acknowledge that it is better to attract a younger audience. I feel I get along with everybody and I don’t wanna make enemies with people. I am for the most part much more calm, relax, not being crazy on the court.

– What’s going on with men homosexuality in tennis? No one talks about it, no one comes out. It’s a huge taboo.

– I’m not sure if there are homosexual tennis players in the top 100. I don’t know. Maybe people think behind close doors we know or something. Statistically speaking, they should be. Statistically. But not that I know. I think is odd, because I feel like a player would be accepted. Myself and my friends, other players on tour wouldn’t have any issues with it, it would be totally normal and I think people would be accepting. I couldn’t tell you why (no one has come out). Obviously anytime that would be a lot of big news and maybe people just don’t want to be in the spotlight, maybe they don’t want the distraction of getting all the attention and stuff like that.

– Mardy Fish and the US Davis Cup Team received a lot of criticism after the defeat in Málaga by not including Rajeev Ram, one of the best doubles players in the world nowadays.

– I think that for Davis Cup we brought our best team. Could Rajeev been in that extra spot, because we had an extra spot, like sure, we know he can be there, but that applies pressure to play in if he is there… and I genuinely think that on that extremely slow court, Tommy (Paul) and Jack (Sock) was our best option. They didn’t play great, I think there was a lot of pressure on them because of the fact that whatever everyone was gonig to say about how we should have brought Rajeev if they lose. But it’s very easy in hindsight after defeat to go back and say ‘oh we should have done this and that’. Australia took out one of their doubles players to put on a single player on a ver big doubles match, and they won it. I stand by the team’s decision. If we brought Rajeev, I can’t say the result would be any different, to be honest.

– What’s your view about the fine received by Fish and Bob Bryan after promoting a gambling operator via social media?

– They just advertised a sports bet company. I know for a fact they didn’t specifically said ‘bet on tennis’ or something like that. That’s agains the rules, I get that. I just think everybody in tennis is making a profit off of betting, except for the players. We get all the harassment from betting. We get 50 to100 death threats after every match you lose. Awful messages, all the hate and all of the negative side of gambling, but we don’t get any of the possitives. It’s unfair to us. By no mean tennis players should tell people to bet on tennis, but I don’t think it should be a problem when is something outside of tennis. What happened to Bob and Marty is unfortunate. Times are changing and the rules probably need to change again.

PHOTO: Alexander Scheuber @alexanderscheuber / Diriyah Tennis Cup

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