Paul prevails in all-American French Open boys' final

June 7, 2015 04:46 PM

By Sandra Harwitt, special to

Roland Garros, Paris — The future of American tennis is suddenly looking remarkably brighter. 

On Saturday, Tommy Paul and Taylor Fritz, competing in the first All-American boys’ final in the long history of the French Open, provided another big boost to the American cause.

In what proved to be a highly competitive final, played in the best spirit of sportsmanship between two friends, Paul (above, right) came through with a 7-6, 2-6, 6-2 victory to capture his first Grand Slam prize. When the match concluded, the young countrymen joined together to honor their American roots by draping the stars-and-stripes around their shoulders while posing for photos with their trophies.

“Since I was little this is like the dream, like to play the French Open,” said Paul, beaming after becoming the champion at the only junior tournament he’s played this year. “I mean, obviously, it’s the juniors and I have a dream about playing pros, but juniors will definitely work.”

Despite the disappointment of not winning, Fritz realized one of his dreams this week as well by reaching the final. On Monday morning, when the new ITF junior world rankings are released, his name will be etched in as the No. 1 junior boy in the world. 

“It’s a huge accomplishment for me,” Fritz said. “[Being No. 1] is the one goal I set for myself when I was 15 years old and just started playing ITF (events). One thing I always try and do, is when I set a goal I always try and meet it. I just don’t want to let it get to my head.” 

If there was any cloud to a sunny day in Paris for the 18-year-old Paul it was that he wouldn’t be taking home two trophies from Roland Garros. As part of the fourth-seeded pairing in boys’ doubles, Paul teamed with another good friend, William Blumberg, to face the unseeded Spanish pairing of Alvaro Lopez San Martin and Jaume Munar in the boys doubles final. The Spanish pair pulled off the  6-4, 6-2 upset. 

Paul, who learned to play tennis on green clay in Greenville, N.C., is a naturally gifted dirt-baller. In the past few weeks he’s shown incredible form on the red clay, winning two ITF Pro Circuit Futures events and reaching a semifinal at another.

“I would say (this) is the best streak I’ve had,” said Paul, whose verbally committed to the University of Georgia, but hasn’t decided if he’ll choose the college route. “I have always liked clay my whole life, so coming out here on the red clay, it’s great. I like it a lot for my game.”

As for the 17-year-old Fritz, a hard-serving, power stroker who admittedly is not a natural clay-court artisan, the weeks in Europe have provided an understanding that he can succeed — even where he’s not particularly comfortable. He credits spending the past few weeks in Europe working with a team of USTA coaches — Diego Moyano, Jose Higueras, Jay Berger and Dean Goldfine — for helping him to open his mind to clay court tennis.

“They (the USTA coaches) have helped me a lot, they do deserve credit for helping us mature as players,” Fritz said. “I have been with them the last three weeks and I have had a great clay season. It really is my least favorite surface, but being with them I have really learned how to play my best tennis on clay courts.”

With the win, Paul joins the ranks of just five American boys to win the French Open junior title since 1947 - Ham Richardson in 1951, Butch Buchholz in 1958, Cliff Richey in 1964, John McEnroe in 1977 and Bjorn Fratangelo in 2011. He refutes the notion that Americans can’t play in a sandbox. 

“Everyone says that U.S. tennis is bad on clay,” he said. “I would have to disagree. Right now I think we’re doing pretty well on the clay. …We are only getting better, I think.”

Fritz, who thinks it’s a huge positive the young Americans can push each other towards success, is confident about the great prospects in the U.S. tennis pipeline.

“I think people should be really excited,” Fritz said. “I think a couple of us are going to do really well. But at the same time, there shouldn’t be too much pressure put on us, because that’s never a good thing. But I do think we are all going to become good players. We might have a next American player that’s way up there.”