Taylor Fritz, Reilly Opelka & Tommy Paul; Dorm Mates are blooming on tour | ATP Tour

As North American hard-court swing heats up further this week at the Western & Southern Open in Cincinnati, some of the country’s biggest stars will look to build on their recent successes on home soil.

TaylorFritz, Reilly Opelka and Thomas Paul are currently 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 ties between many of them are strong in the American contingent, the bond Fritz , Opelka and Paul hold is very special.

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 are now stronger than ever. Opelka remembers her youth well.

“We first met when we were about 13 years old and we’ve been training together ever since and we started hanging out back then, so the relationships developed quite naturally,” Opelka told ATPTour.com. “It’s an interesting time at that age. We had a strange setup because we didn’t have parents around.

“The three of us lived together, so we didn’t have that much guidance. It was like a free for everyone. There aren’t many boys as young as 13 that have that tremendous freedom and could do what we had. We had that when we lived in the dorms.”

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

“The first time I really met her was when I went to USTA when I was about 15 and we lived together in Boca,” Fritz said. “I feel like that really brings people together because there’s not a lot to do after tennis. We all just hung out together, killing time and hit it off right away. Since then we’ve just become really good friends.”

From trips to the beach to hours on the basketball court, the trio enjoyed life while balancing competition on the ITF Junior Circuit with a range of other sports and hobbies.

Opelka believes their similar upbringings and interests meant the trio bonded quickly after arriving in a highly competitive Florida environment, which ultimately helped them thrive in moments of pressure.

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

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

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While friendships blossomed off the pitch, the will to win remained strong there. Sitting next to Paul in the canteen after an opening win at Eastbourne in June, Fritz reflected on how dejected he felt after his first encounter with his compatriot.

“The first time Tommy and I played each other was at a national tournament and I think those guys were a lot better than me back then. These guys had a competition, maybe Frances [Tiafoe] In addition, they kept playing at the same time, they had a competition that could finish faster,” said Fritz. “Tommy didn’t even take the game with me seriously. “Let’s see who can beat the idiots faster,” was the starting position. It wasn’t great, I had to improve.”

A decade later, the improvement Fritz made is visible to the whole world. The 24-year-old, who sits at No. 13 in the Pepperstone ATP rankings, is the current American No. 1, highlighted by his maiden ATP Masters 1000 title in Indian Wells earlier this year.

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

The four-time ATP Tour champion and top 20 star Opelka is not surprised by the success of the two.

“Taylor is so optimistic all the time. He was always like that,” said Opelka. “A bit of delusion and I don’t mean that as an insult. you watch Wimbledon last year. To Roland Garros In 2021 he had an operation on his knee and the doctor and physiotherapist said no. And he said, “No, I’m fine,” and he is. He’s very optimistic, which is why he’s such a competitor.

“Then Tommy is a great athlete. Physically he is doing very well. He’s gotten stronger and has taken his natural athleticism to another level. His natural tennis skills are off the charts. He just needed a bit of time to get the discipline.”

Opelka believes the key to their success has been the different paths they have taken in the sport. Though it has cut down on the time they’ve spent together in recent years, the 24-year-old feels it’s benefited her career.

“We’ve all gotten older and now we all have our own coach. Taylor and I still share a physical therapist. Taylor just moved to Miami so I’m seeing more of him. We went our own way, which is a normal development,” said Opelka, who will not be competing in Cincinnati due to injury. “Different trainers and training structures and just doing the essential things for our career. You have to set priorities.”

However, with the trio touring together every week, opportunities to hang out in a number of cities remain.

With Fritz, a fan of video games, Opelka, who has an interest in fashion, and Paul, who enjoys water sports, they immerse themselves in a range of different activities when spending time together.

“We have similar and different interests at the same time,” Paul told ATPTour.com. “Reilly is very interested in fashion and art and Fritz loves his video games. I’ve never delved too much into it, but I’m getting into it.

“I’ve had my time playing games during quarantine. I played a bit online with Taylor, Call of Duty, Fortnite. Your interests in me are worn out in a way. Sometimes I’ll play video games with Fritz, sometimes I’ll see art with Reilly. It was cool. I’m very fortunate to have close friends on tour and it’s always been a tight group.”

In high spirits, the trio will continue to strive for success for the rest of the season and beyond, breaking new ground. That’s the nature of professional sports. Fritz believes that the success so far needs to 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 a lot of them ended up making it pro and we were all able to show up and tour together. It is great.”

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