© Alex Smith/Memphis Open

Taylor Fritz avanzóa su primera final en el ATP World Tour final en el Memphis Open.

Fritz Flies Into First Final, Nishikori Awaits

18 year old edges Berankis in Memphis

There seems to be no stopping Taylor Fritz this week at the Memphis Open. The 18-year-old American put himself in elite company on Saturday, rallying past Ricardas Berankis 2-6, 6-3, 6-4 to reach his first ATP World Tour final. He will square off against top seed and three-time defending champion Kei Nishikori for the title.

At 18 years and three months, Fritz became the youngest American to reach a tour-level final since then 17-year-old Michael Chang won the Wembley 1989 crown. He is also the first American teenager in a title match since Andy Roddick finished runner-up in Montreal in 2002, and is the second teen finalist on the ATP World Tour this year, following Borna Coric's run in Chennai (l. to Wawrinka).

"It's the best feeling in the world," said Fritz. "To be here and think that it's the final is crazy. I'm really excited that I got to this level and I've proven myself that I belong here.

"It's amazing to have this support. I feel so loved here. It's the best feeling in the world. I owe a lot to the crowd pumping me up."

Fritz was on the ropes early as Berankis ran away with the opening set behind three breaks of serve. But the wild card shed his nerves as the match progressed. Cool under pressure as he has been all week, Fritz stayed the course after being broken to love in the seventh game of the second set. He broke back immediately and would force a decider. In the third, the 18 year old earned a pair of breaks on Berankis double faults, eventually closing it out on his fifth match point after one hour and 41 minutes.

"I honestly felt he was unbeatable in the first set," Fritz added. "He was making me look awful. I didn't think there was much I could do. I tried to change things up in my game. He was returning my serves and putting me on defence. In the second set, I told myself that the way I was serving wasn't going to cut it. I needed to crank it up a lot. I started hitting my serves 5-10 miles per hour faster. That was the biggest difference. Once I was holding my serve, it put pressure on him. That's what allowed me to play my game more and allowed me to win."

Fritz, who closed his 2015 campaign with two ATP Challenger Tour titles (Sacramento & Fairfield) in three finals and opened 2016 with a win in Happy Valley, Australia, is making a seamless transition to the ATP World Tour. Competing in just his third tour-level event, he is already well ahead of the curve:

Tournaments Played To Reach First Final (current Top 10)

Player

No. of Tournaments

First Final

Result

1 Novak Djokovic

24

Amersfoort 2006
Won title

2 Andy Murray

8
Bangkok 2005
Runner-up

3 Roger Federer

21
Marseille 2000
Runner-up
4 Stan Wawrinka
18
Gstaad 2005
Runner-up
5 Rafael Nadal
14
Auckland 2004
Runner-up
6 David Ferrer
2
Umag 2002
Runner-up
7 Kei Nishikori
6
Delray Beach 2006
Won title
8 Tomas Berdych
14
Palermo 2004
Won title
9 Jo-Wilfried Tsonga
16 Australian Open 2008
Runner-up
10 Richard Gasquet
28
Metz 2004
Runner-up

The California native's rise to the precipice of the Top 100 of the Emirates ATP Rankings is astounding, having resided at World No. 935 a year ago. He is bidding to become the first teen to earn an ATP World Tour title since Marin Cilic in New Haven 2008, when he battles Nishikori on Sunday. The most recent American winner in Memphis was Andy Roddick in 2011. Roddick, Andre Agassi and Stefan Edberg are the lone teenage champions in the 40-year history of the ATP World Tour 250 event.

Berankis, meanwhile, was competing in his second ATP World Tour semi-final, following a run to the last four in Los Angeles 2012.

"I was very close," said Berankis. "I played very well in the first set. Everything was working. In the second set, I started to play a little more careful and Taylor took his chances and was all over me... You always have to keep up the plan and continue the same way throughout the match."

Three-time defending champion Nishikori awaits Fritz in the final after fighting past home hope and 2010 Memphis titlist Sam Querrey 3-6, 6-3, 6-3 in Saturday's second semi-final. The Japanese padded his mastery of deciding set matches, improving to 86-24 in his career. After dropping the opener in 30 minutes, he secured early breaks in both the second and third sets, before sealing the win on his third match point. It was deja vu at the Racquet Club of Memphis, with Nishikori also trumping Querrey in the 2015 semi-finals.

"It was a tough start for me," said Nishikori. "He was playing really good tennis, especially with his serve. He was hitting deep and flat and I was on defence all the time. I found my rhythm in the second set, was hitting balls deep and the tactics were working. I tried to be more focused and played more aggressive."

World No. 7 Nishikori will contest his 16th tour-level final in total, seeking title No. 11. He is bidding to become the fourth active player to win four straight titles at an ATP World Tour level tournament (Federer, Nadal, Djokovic) and the second four-time winner in Memphis (Connors).

"We practised a lot in California," Nishikori added, referring to Fritz. "We've never played in a match, but I know he has a great serve and he's a little like Sam. He hits a big forehand, backhand and serve. You can see he's playing great here and I have to have good tactics for tomorrow."

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