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Taylor Fritz Outduels Frances Tiafoe in Rakuten Japan Open Final

With the win, the American will reach the top 10 in the world rankings for the first time and bolster his chances of qualifying for the ATP Finals.

Two rising American tennis stars renewed their rivalry in the men's singles final at the Rakuten Japan Open on Sunday, October 9.

World No. 11 Taylor Fritz and 19th-ranked Frances Tiafoe went all-out in pursuit of every point in just under 1 hour and 57 minutes of court time.

In the end, Fritz prevailed 7-6 (7-3), 7-6 (7-2) at Tokyo's Ariake Colosseum, earning his fourth career singles title and second this year. 

What's more, Fritz became the first American in more than a quarter century to win the tournament. Pete Sampras was the last American singles champion in the event in 1996, when he defeated Richey Reneberg 6-4, 7-5 for his 42nd career title.

Fritz, 24, excelled in the most crucial moments against Tiafoe, who's the same age, as evidenced in both tiebreaks. He also outscored Tiafoe 33-17 on receiving points.

It's been a whirlwind stretch of days for Fritz. He had to withdraw from the Korea Open after testing positive for COVID-19, then spent seven days in quarantine in his Seoul hotel room before flying to Tokyo. Then he defeated Australian James Duckworth 6-2, 6-7 (2-7), 6-1 in the first round on Wednesday to begin his title quest in Japan.

"[It is] crazy, I don't even think it's set in just how fast the last four or five days have been," Fritz was quoted as saying by the ATP Tour website after the match. "It's so crazy, and I couldn't have written it any better."

Sunday's title enhances Fritz's chances of qualifying for the season-ending ATP Finals, November 13-20, in Turin, Italy. Only the top eight men in the calendar-year points race qualify to compete in singles. The updated Race to Turin rankings are posted here.

"It's exactly what I needed … for my ranking to kind of put me in a good position for the end of the year, so it's amazing," Fritz stated.

A Rise in the Rankings

With his triumph in the Japanese capital, the 24-year-old California native will move into the top 10 for the first time, climbing to No. 8, when the new world rankings are released on Monday, October 10. Tiafoe will rise to No. 17, his highest-ever ranking.

In March, Fritz defeated all-time great Rafael Nadal 6-3, 7-6 (7-5) in the BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells, California.

In his latest success story, Fritz was especially tough on break points saved (7-for-8), a crucial element of his win over Tiafoe.

Tiafoe Continues Strong Play of Late

In September, Tiafoe reached the US Open semifinals, his best-ever showing at a Grand Slam tournament.

"First off, I wanna congratulate Frances on a great week, I mean, he's been on fire recently, and I had to play my absolute best to beat him today," Fritz said, according to Agence France-Presse.

Before Sunday's final, Fritz and Tiafoe had five previous encounters in ATP Tour matches, with Fritz winning four times. In August, in their most recent duel, Fritz topped Tiafoe 5-7, 6-1, 6-4 in the National Bank Open's second round in Montreal, Quebec.

In the Japan Open semifinals, Tiafoe topped South Korea's Soon Woo Kim, the world No. 120, 6-2, 0-6, 6-4, while Fritz prevailed 6-3, 6-7 (5-7), 6-3 over Canada's 22nd-ranked Denis Shapovalov.

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Melo, McDonald Claim Doubles Title

Brazil's Marcelo Melo and American Mackenzie McDonald, new partners making their debut together in Tokyo, defeated Brazil's Rafael Matos and Spain's David Vega Hernandez, the No. 3 seed, 6-4, 3-6, 10-4 in the doubles final.

With both pairs winning a set, the match proceeded to a tiebreak, with the first team to reach 10 points and hold a margin of at least two points declared the winner.

"Today was tricky," Melo told reporters later. "A match tiebreak, you never know what can happen. But we played very good. Mackie helped a lot, he played very good, as well. We are very happy. It's not easy to play for the first time."

In 2015, Melo teamed up with South Africa's Raven Klaasen to win the Tokyo tourney doubles title.

Seven years later, he made a triumphant return.

"It was a long time since I played here in Tokyo," Melo said. "I always wanted to come back. I'm very happy to get another title here in Tokyo."

Kunieda Earns Wheelchair Singles Title

On Saturday, Shingo Kunieda triumphed 6-3, 2-6, 7-6 (7-3) over 16-year-old opponent Tokito Oda in the men's wheelchair singles final.

"It was a very tough match. Tokito had a great performance today," Kunieda told reporters. "Never giving up was the key today."

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Author: Ed Odeven

Follow Ed on JAPAN Forward's [Japan Sports Notebook] here on Sundays, in [Odds and Evens] here during the week, and Twitter @ed_odeven.

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