Streaking Fritz wows in Memphis

February 14, 2016 04:36 PM

By E.J. Crawford,

These are heady times for 18-year-old Taylor Fritz.

The 6-foot-4 Californian has enjoyed the finest 12 months of anyone in men’s tennis this side of Novak Djokovic, winning the US Open Junior Championships and reaching the French Open junior singles final and the Wimbledon boys’ semifinals on the junior level in 2015, then stepping up to the pros and winning three Challenger events, including two on the USTA Pro Circuit.

On the tour level, he qualified for the main draw of the 2016 Australian Open, nearly knocking off No. 22 seed Jack Sock in the first round, and this week in Memphis he became the youngest American man to reach an ATP singles final since Michael Chang in 1989 – some 27 years ago – to rise to the cusp of the Top 100. He began 2015 ranked No. 1,141.

“Obviously this is something I’ve dreamt about since I was kid,” Fritz told the ATP. “It’s just crazy to think about all the steps I’ve made in the past two years to get to this point. I just hope I can keep going at this rate, because that would be amazing.”

Fritz’s run in Memphis included victories over No. 2 seed and frequent practice partner Steve Johnson and two veterans of the Top 100, Benjamin Becker and Ricardas Berankis – with the wins over Becker and Berankis coming in three sets. Behind those showings, Fritz joined Roger Federer, Andy Murray, Rafael Nadal, Kei Nishikori, Gael Monfils, Richard Gasquet and Tommy Robredo as the only current players to reach an ATP final before turning 19.

To top it off, Fritz teamed with fellow American Ryan Harrison to reach the doubles semis in the River City.

“It’s the best feeling in the world,” Fritz told of making his first final in only his third tour event. “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 [to] myself that I belong here.”

The wild-card entrant finally met his match in Sunday’s final, falling to world No. 7 and 2014 US Open finalist Nishikori, 6-4, 6-4, but not before earning plaudits for his performance.

"We practiced five or six times the past few years in California, so I know how he plays," Nishikori said. "I never beat him before, so I was happy to beat him in a match. I tried different tactics to make him move more. He has very good reach so it's not easy to hit winners, especially on these slow courts. I had to finish the points strong with my legs. He was tough to play."

Fritz will climb to at least No. 102 in Monday’s rankings. And with very few points to defend until after the 2016 US Open, is practically a lock to earn direct entry into the remaining Slams of 2016 – the French Open, Wimbledon and US Open – with more points to accrue and perhaps more history to make.

"I definitely didn't expect to get to a final so quickly," Fritz said. "It's a great accomplishment to get here despite losing in the final. I had a great week and I have to be happy with the result. I have a lot of confidence moving forward. I need to get my body stronger and I can continue to play at this level."