So Ryan Harrison lost a heartbreaker on the Grandstand court of the U.S. Open today after having three match points before losing to Sergey Stakhovsky 6-3, 5-7, 3-6, 6-3, 7-6 (8) after just over four hours of play with a few mild rain delays thrown in. Should we be concerned that Harrison choked the match? Not at all. In fact, in his press conference just afterwards, the 18-year-old from Shreveport, LA, showed true poise and expressed confidence that his whole ride from the qualies to the second round of the last Grand Slam of the year was a good experience for him. Throw in that many seasoned tennis journalists from around the world expressed high regards for the maturity and confidence that Harrison expressed in his post-match interview after what could have been a devastating loss, and the consensus is in. Harrison is the real deal.
For a country desperate to find the next “one”, Harrison seems to fit the bill. During his over four-hour tussle with the competent but not always steady Stakhovsky, Harrison showed off an almost complete game full of variety. Aside from tossing in big bombs on second serves, Harrison always looked for the net, not successful all of the time, but enough to suggest that the recent trend of American players looking uncomfortable at the middle of the court may be coming to an end. Harrison definitely had chances, especially at 3-2 in the fourth set when Harrison had a break point to close out the match on his serve before a backhand down the line passing shot just went wide. But Harrison’s ability to stick around even after a rain delay pause delayed a seemingly inevitable Stakhovsky win after the Ukranian went up an early break in the fifth set shows that the American can find ways to win matches even when all hope is lost.
Harrison, who had to earn his way into the main draw after not earning an automatic wildcard berth from the USTA, appeared to relish that he had to earn his way into his nation’s biggest event unlike other “future stars” who squandered their free passes into the first round. Sure Harrison would have become a media darling overnight had he won, but perhaps it’s best he didn’t in the long run. After seeing the intense media and national focus Melanie Oudin, who reached the quarterfinals last year before losing to finalist Caroline Wozniacki, received in lieu of a so-so 2010 season, Harrison could benefit from still remaining under the radar a little bit to allow him more time to fine tune his game.
If Harrison can reach the next stage of his career and possibly enter the top 20 like Sam Querrey and John Isner remains to be seen. But the kid proved today he’s got the game and the maturity needed to sustain a healthy career on the ATP tour. What happens after that is up to him, but it’s certainly nice to see some American guys on the rise after the recent handwringing from the media after Andy Roddick dropped out of the top 10 briefly a few weeks ago. To them I say, relax. To Harrison I say, it’s a tough loss, but you proved you deserved to be out there. The world is yours kid. Take it.