Friday, February 12, 2016

Fritz, 18, upsets Johnson to reach Memphis quarters

Taylor Fritz serves in the Sacramento Challenger last
October. He won the title at 17. Photo by Paul Bauman
   Taylor Fritz continued his meteoric rise today with the biggest victory of his brief professional career.
   In a matchup of Southern California natives, the teenage wild card ousted second-seeded Steve Johnson 7-6 (5), 7-6 (7) on Thursday in the second round of the $693,425 Memphis (Tenn.) Open.
   Fritz became the first American 18-year-old to reach the quarterfinals on the ATP World Tour since Denis Kudla at Newport in 2011. But whereas Kudla, now ranked 59th, is 5-foot-11 (1.80 meters), Fritz is 6-foot-4 (1.93 meters) in an age of power.
   Fritz also defeated a top-30 player for the first time. The 26-year-old Johnson is ranked 29th, third in the United States behind No. 12 John Isner and No. 23 Jack Sock.
   As Fritz did in winning the Sacramento and Fairfield, Calif., Challengers back-to-back last October, he displayed uncanny poise under pressure in Memphis. Fritz saved nine of 11 break points.
   "I played the big points well," Fritz, a lifelong resident of Rancho Santa Fe in the San Diego area, told reporters. "He had a lot more chances than me. He didn't do anything wrong, but I played just about as well as I could play on the big points. I think that was the difference."
Steve Johnson plays in the 2013 Aptos Challenger. He won
the title there in 2012. Photo by Paul Bauman
   Johnson, who was born in Orange and lives in nearby Redondo Beach in the Los Angeles area, often practices with Fritz.
   "I thought he played an insane match for him," Johnson said. "It's probably the best he's played on this level by far. I had a lot of chances, but he somehow just won all the big points. It's a tough one, definitely, for me."
   Fritz, who has soared from No. 694 entering Sacramento to No. 145, has a decent chance to reach the final. He has a favorable draw, and playing indoors helps the hard-serving Fritz because he doesn't have to contend with the sun or any wind.
   Fritz will face 5-foot-10 (1.78-meter) German Benjamin Becker, the oldest player in the draw, for the first time today at noon PST.
   The 107th-ranked Becker defeated Australia's John Millman, who reached his first ATP quarterfinal last week in Montpellier, France, 6-2, 7-6 (6).
   Becker, who played during the day session, will be fresher than Fritz, who toiled at night. On the other hand, the 34-year-old Becker is almost twice as old as Fritz.
   The winner of the Fritz-Becker match will play either third-seeded Donald Young of Atlanta or Ricardas Berankis of Lithuania.
   Young, a 26-year-old left-hander generously listed at 6 feet (1.83 meters), is ranked No. 48. Berankis, only 5-foot-9 (1.75 meters), is No. 102.
   Fritz will rise to about No. 134 with a loss to Becker and at least to around No. 114 with a win.
   Millman (2015), Johnson (2012) and Young (2007) all have won the Comerica Bank Challenger in Aptos, located 83 miles (133.6 kilometers) south of San Francisco on the Pacific Ocean.
   In the top half of the Memphis draw, No. 1 seed and three-time defending champion Kei Nishikori of Japan will face Mikhail Kukushkin of Kazakhstan. Also, No. 4 seed and 2010 champion Sam Querrey, a San Francisco native, will meet qualifier Yoshihito Nishioka of Japan.
   Kukushkin was the runner-up to Marcos Baghdatis, who lost to Marin Klizan of Slovakia in the second round at Rotterdam on Thursday, at Aptos in 2014. Nishioka was a quarterfinalist there last year.
   As for Nishikori, the 2014 U.S. Open runner-up, it's true he's only 5-foot-10 (1.78 meters). Sometimes, talent trumps height.

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