TENNIS

Taylor Fritz, Reilly Opelka and Tommy Paul; Dorm Mates Thrive On Tour | ATP tour

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As the North American hard-court swing continues to heat up this week at the Western & Southern Open in Cincinnati, some of the country’s biggest stars will be looking to build on their recent home success.

Taylor Fritz, Reilly Opelka and Tommy Paul currently sit in the Top 35 of the Pepperstone ATP Rankings and are part of a larger group of 13 players from the United States who are currently in the Top 100. While the relationships between many of those du The American contingent is strong, the bond that Fritz, Opelka and Paul have is very special.

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When the trio were teenagers, they trained together at the USTA base in Florida. It gave them the opportunity to work on their games, while also allowing them to develop and build the foundations of friendships that remain stronger than ever. Opelka remembers his junior years well.

“We first met when we were around 13 and we’ve been training together since then and started hanging out then, so the relationship formed naturally,” Opelka told ATPTour.com. “At that age, it’s an interesting time. We had a weird setup because we had no relatives around.

“It was the three of us who lived together, so we didn’t have as many guidelines. It was like a free for all. There aren’t many 13-year-old guys who have this enormous freedom and could do what we had. It’s kind of what we had when we lived in the dorms.


After arriving at the USTA center in Florida from San Diego, Fritz quickly clicked with Opelka and Paul, who had already known each other for a year.

“The first time I met them was when I went to the USTA when I was about 15 and we lived together in Boca,” Fritz said. “I feel like it really brings people together because there’s not much to do after tennis. We were all sort of hanging out, killing time together and we got together. We hit it off right away. We’ve just become really good friends since then.

From trips to the beach to hours spent on the basketball court, the trio have enjoyed life balancing competition on the ITF Junior Circuit with an array of other sports and hobbies.

Opelka believes their similar upbringings and interests allowed the trio to bond quickly upon arriving in a highly competitive environment in Florida, ultimately helping them succeed in times of pressure.

“We trained twice a day for two or three hours each time and it was intense, but the rest of the time we could just relax and do whatever we wanted,” recalls Opelka. “We did a ton of different things. It was all in South Florida. It was a bustling area with pleasant weather all year round.

“We still had other interests. At 14 Tommy was skating and playing basketball more than even tennis and Fritz was in public school in 10th grade, I was in 9th grade. We were more traditional American kids.

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While friendships blossomed away from the field, on it the desire to win remained high. As Fritz sat next to Paul in the canteen after a first-round victory at Eastbourne in June, he reflected on how his first meeting with his compatriot had left him deflated.

“The first time Tommy and I played each other was in a national tournament, and I guess those guys were way better than me at the time. Those guys had like a competition, maybe Frances [Tiafoe] moreover, they kept playing at the same time, they had a competition that could end faster,” Fritz said. “Tommy wasn’t even taking the game seriously with me. ‘Let’s see who can beat the idiots the fastest’, that was the situation. It wasn’t great, I needed to improve.

A decade later, Fritz’s improvements are evident to the world. Sitting at No. 13 in Pepperstone’s ATP rankings, the 24-year-old is the current American No. 1, highlighted by his maiden ATP Masters 1000 title in Indian Wells earlier this year.

Paul has also flourished on the tour over the past year, winning his first tour-level title in Stockholm in November, before climbing to career No. 31 in August.

Opelka, a four-time ATP Tour champion and Top 20 star, isn’t surprised by the success of the two.

“Taylor is so optimistic all the time. He’s always been that way,” Opelka said. , he had knee surgery and the doctor and the physio said no. And he said, ‘No, I’ll be fine’, and that’s him. He’s very optimistic, that’s why he’s such a competitor .

“So Tommy is a great athlete. Physically he’s very good. He’s gotten stronger and taken his natural athleticism to another level. His natural tennis ability is off the charts. It just took him a bit of time to acquire discipline.

Opelka believes the key to their success is the different paths they have taken in the sport. Although it has reduced the time they have spent together in recent years, the 24-year-old believes it has been beneficial for their careers.

“We have all aged and now we all have our own coach. Taylor and I still share a physio. Taylor just moved to Miami, so I don’t see him anymore. We followed our own directions, which is a normal evolution,” said Opelka, who will not compete in Cincinnati due to injury. “Different coaches and training setups and just doing the essential things for our careers. You have to prioritize.”

However, with the trio traveling the Tour together each week, the opportunities to hang out in various cities remain.

With Fritz a video game fanatic, Opelka interested in fashion, and Paul a water sports enthusiast, they immerse themselves in a range of different activities when spending time together.

“We have similar interests and different interests at the same time,” Paul told ATPTour.com. “Reilly is passionate about fashion and art and Fritz loves his video games. I’ve never been too much into it, but I get involved with them.

“I had my time playing games during quarantine. I played online a bit with Taylor, Call Of Duty, Fortnite. Their interests kind of melted away on me. Sometimes I’ll play video games with Fritz, sometimes I’ll go see art with Reilly. It was cool. I’m very happy to have close friends on the Tour and it’s always been a close-knit group.”

With morale high, the trio will be aiming for further success throughout the season and beyond as they look to break new ground. It’s the nature of professional sports. However, Fritz thinks their success so far should also be celebrated.

“We’ve been through so much,” Fritz said. “It’s crazy to think that you grew up with a lot of people playing tennis, and not many of them end up going pro and we were all able to come and be on the Tour together. It’s great.”

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