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Teenager Fritz makes history, reaches Memphis Open final

MEMPHIS, TN - FEBRUARY 13: Taylor Fritz of the United States reacts to a victory over Ricardas Berankis of Lithuania in their semi-final singles match on Day 6 of the Memphis Openat the Racquet Club of Memphis on February 13, 2016 in Memphis, Tennessee. (Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images)
February 13, 2016 07:50 PM

By Ashley Marshall, USTA.com

Taylor Fritz continued his meteoric rise up the rankings this weekend by becoming the youngest American to reach an ATP World Tour final in more than 25 years.

In just his third career ATP event, the 18-year-old former junior No. 1 rallied from a set down to defeat Ricardas Berankis, 2-6, 6-3, 6-4, in the semifinals of the Memphis Open Saturday evening.

At the start of 2015, Fritz was No. 1,141 in the world rankings. With his run in Tennessee, he’s guaranteed to climb to at least No. 102 regardless of the outcome of Sunday’s final, which will be against three-time defending champion and current world No. 7 Kei Nishikori.

Fritz has been smashing milestones and making history all week in Memphis, starting with reaching his first ATP quarterfinal with a win over second-seeded Steve Johnson, ranked 29th in the world, on Thursday. The following day, the teenager beat Benjamin Becker, 6-4, 5-7, 7-6, to became the youngest U.S. man to reach a semifinal at this level since 17-year-old Michael Chang won the 1989 Wembley title in 1989.

The California native joins Roger Federer, Andy Murray, Rafael Nadal, Nishikori, Gael Monfils, Richard Gasquet and Tommy Robredo as the only current players to reach an ATP final before turning 19.

Moreover, Fritz has reached an ATP final quicker than several legendary American Grand Slam men's singles winners, including Andy Roddick and Jimmy Connors, who each won his first title at the 10th attempt. Andre Agassi needed 11 tournaments to reach his first final, John McEnroe and Chang each needed 17 and Jim Courier needed 33. Pete Sampras didn’t make his first final until his 34th tournament.

On Saturday, Fritz was broken three times in a 32-minute first set, but he stormed back to level the semifinal by breaking Berankis twice in the second set. If Fritz had any nerves in the decider, they barely showed as the right-hander smacked 10 aces in the set – he had 17 for the match – and earned a crucial break at 4-4 to move one game away from his first final.

Berankis saved the first four match points and even created a pair of break-point opportunities, but Fritz won the 15th and final point of the longest game of the match to book his place in Sunday's finale.

Fritz, who entered Memphis as a wild card, was named the ITF World Junior Champion in 2015 after winning the US Open boys' singles championship and reaching the French Open boys' final and the Wimbledon boys' semifinals. From there he transitioned to pro events and excelled on the USTA Pro Circuit and ITF Pro Circuit, winning three Challenger titles and cracking the Top 200.

He came through qualifying to reach the main draw at the 2016 Australian Open, losing in a tense five-setter to No. 22 seed Jack Sock. His only other ATP event was at the the Aegon Open in Nottingham, England, last June.