Rafael Nadal's five-set victory over Taylor Fritz at Wimbledon was one of the year's most thrilling tennis matches, a showcase for both one of the all-time greats and America's hottest contender.
But TV cameras kept cutting away from the on-court drama to gauge reactions from Morgan Riddle, Fritz's girlfriend for more than two years. During the match, she added 30,000 Instagram followers.
"In London, Wimbledon is huge. It's the biggest event of the year," Riddle said earlier this month in a Zoom interview from a friend's apartment in New York, where the U.S. Open gets underway Monday. "But that particular match was also in prime time in the U.S., so a lot of people were watching that don't otherwise watch tennis on TV."
The St. Paul native doesn't mind the attention. In fact, she's counting on it.
Riddle, 25, is one of a growing number of social media influencers whose success depends on name recognition and likability. Their makeup tips and wardrobe choices can lead to big sales.
According to Influencer Marketing Hub, a private media company based in Denmark, the influencer-marketing industry will be worth $16.4 billion in 2022, which explains why 75% of brand marketers plan to allocate at least part of their budgets this year to personalities like Riddle.
"The younger generation is typically very skeptical about traditional mass media and advertising," said Hye-Young Kim, a professor and director of Center for Retail Design and Innovation at the University of Minnesota. "That explains why so many big brands and luxury brands turn to social media."
Riddle has nearly 100,000 followers on Instagram and more than 274,000 fans on TikTok, where many of her videos show her breathlessly swooning over everything from revealing swimsuits to self-tanners.
According to Christine Scherping, senior vice president at the Minneapolis-based Maccabee Public Relations, Riddle has an engagement rating of 11%, an impressive number when you consider that most experts say 2% is acceptable. But she expressed concern about Riddle's 64% rating in credibility, a score that indicates she may be relying too much on bot followers.
If Riddle were her client, Scherping said, she'd advise her to focus more on tennis.
"People love behind-the-scenes content," said Scherping, who also founded Friend of a Friend PR. "Don't just show them beautiful photos. Show them the honest world."
That, it turns out, is exactly Riddle's plan.
Tennis was not part of her St. Paul childhood. She grew up in a hockey family. Her father, Rob Kimm, wrote two books on musky fishing.
But she showed early signs of being an extrovert.
At age 4, she started asking her parents for camera equipment. Around that same age, she also announced she wanted to wear dresses decorated with flowers.
"She had very strong feelings about it," said mom Heather Riddle, a senior vice president and chief development officer for Minnesota Public Radio. "She was so tiny, it was hard to find her size, so I ended up buying a sewing machine and making clothes for her. I did a lot of sewing to meet her fashion objectives."
But young Riddle also started to develop a head for business. From the age of 14, she started working at Cindy's Cinnamon Roasted Nuts at the Minnesota State Fair, logging 12-hour days for 12 straight days.
"It definitely built character," Riddle said.
After attending Wagner College in Staten Island, she started amassing corporate experience, including a stint as media director for Love Your Melon, the hat company that gives 50% of profits to organizations fighting pediatric cancer. She also served as media director for Gamers Outreach, a nonprofit that provides video games to hospitalized families.
Even though Riddle had amassed a strong online following, she resisted the idea of becoming a full-time influencer.
"There were so many instances where people at work would say, 'Oh, are you a model? Are you an Instagram influencer?' and I would say, 'No, I'm a media director,'" she said. "You could see this visual relief come over their bodies, like, 'Oh, she's a normal person with a normal career. She's a respectful human being.'"
Her perspective started to change two years ago, shortly after meeting Fritz in Los Angeles through a dating app.
Part of her role since then has been being her boyfriend's main cheerleader. Fritz, who is currently ranked 12th in the world, has said he plays better when she's in the stands.
"Part of it could be because we joke about it and, at some point, we started believing it," Fritz said in an e-mail. "But I do feel like she helps me stay on a proper schedule and holds me accountable for staying on top of things professionally."
She also discovered that followers were interested in videos that helped explain a world that was foreign to her. Her videos do everything from dissecting the Association of Tennis Professionals' ranking system to offering a peek into tournament gift suites. One TikTok video, "On a Personal Mission to Make Tennis Cool Again," has been viewed more than 4 million times.
Earlier this year, she decided to become a full-time influencer.
"There are so many negative connotations around it. But who cares?" said Riddle, who is on track to making six figures this year, mostly from brands willing to pay her for endorsements. She's planning on posting video on a regular basis during the U.S. Open, especially if Fritz makes a strong showing. "I'm making way more money than I ever did in my corporate positions. I work on my own time and am a lot happier. Screw what people think about it."
Fritz believes his girlfriend can be an important ambassador for the game.
"She is able to reach a large audience of people that aren't already tennis fans," he wrote. "Social media can play a very large role in getting more interest to the sport."
There's just one more move she might want to consider.
"Naomi Osaka sent me a racquet yesterday," said Riddle, referring to the two-time U.S. Open and two-time Australian Open winner. "I should probably learn how to play now."