Fritz rallied from a 5-2 deficit in the third set by winning four of five games — when Zverev held two match points — to force the tiebreaker. He raced to a 6-1 lead and won it on his third match point when Zverev’s forehand landed beyond the baseline.
“I kept fighting,” Fritz said. “The crowd pushing me on meant so much.”
Fritz was the clear favorite at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden, where 83-year-old Hall of Famer Rod Laver looked on. Fritz, the 23-year-old son of retired Top-10 player Kathy May, grew up in the San Diego area and attended the tournament as a youngster.
Fritz had five previous wins over Top-10 players in 2019, including No. 5 Dominic Thiem at the Laver Cup. Now, he’s bagged his biggest by beating Zverev, ranked fourth in the world.
“This is the farthest I’ve ever been in a big tournament,” said Fritz, who won his first ATP Tour title at Eastbourne in 2019. “It’s easily the best win of my life, against a really tough opponent on arguably the biggest match I could possibly play, so it’s great.”
Fritz’s semifinal opponent Saturday is 29th-seeded Nikoloz Basilashvili, who outlasted No. 2 seed Stefanos Tsitsipas 6-4, 2-6, 6-4. The other semi features No. 21 Cameron Norrie against No. 23 Grigor Dimitrov, who earlier knocked out top-seeded Daniil Medvedev in three sets.
“This one hurts because I knew that after Stefanos lost, I was kind of the favorite to win this tournament,” Zverev said, “but my tennis wasn’t there yet.”
Zverev, the gold medalist at the Tokyo Olympics, had been the highest remaining men’s seed in the combined ATP and WTA tour event that was moved to the fall from its usual March date because of the coronavirus pandemic. Upsets knocked out several top players in a tournament that has lacked both its usual crowds and biggest stars, including Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal, Roger Federer, Naomi Osaka and Serena Williams.
The women’s semifinals Friday night featured Victoria Azarenka against Jelena Ostapenko and Ons Jabeur against Paula Badosa.
Fritz fought off two match points in breaking Zverev to trail 5-4 in the third set. Zverev’s 135-mph ace set up his second match point, but he double-faulted.
Fritz served a love game for a 5-all tie. After Zverev held with the court nearly half in shadow from the searing late afternoon sun, Fritz held again to force the tiebreaker.
“I just had the confidence to keep hitting my forehand, keep being aggressive,” Fritz said. “Whenever the chance to kind of make a play happened, I went for it.”
Ranked 36th in the world, Basilashvili beat Roger Federer in the quarterfinals at Doha in March on the way to winning the title.
“My win against Roger meant a lot to me because he was my idol,” Basilashvili said. “I would say Roger’s win was very important in my career. Beating Stefanos today was, as well, really, really important match.”
The 29-year-old from Georgia beat Tsitsipas for the first time in three tries. Ranked third, Tsitsipas has a leading 54 wins on the ATP Tour this year.
Basilashvili held at love to win the first set before Tsitsipas cruised through the second set.
In the third, Tsitsipas fell behind the baseline chasing a shot in the third game and came up limping. But the Greek shook it off and went on to break Basilashvili and then held for a 3-2 lead.
Basilashvili won three straight games for a 5-3 lead. Tsitsipas served three aces to trail 5-4. Basilashvili pulled out an ace of his own to set up match point and produced another big serve that Tsitsipas couldn’t return to close out the match in just over two hours.
“I got really tight in the end of the match,” Basilashvili said. “My physical levels were going down a bit in the third set because of the emotions.”