In the battle of the “man-boy” versus the “boy-man” yesterday at the BNP Paribas Open at Indian Wells, it was the younger Ryan Harrison prevailing over his elder foe Milos Raonic 7-6, (1) 4-6, 6-4 in a match that proved to not only be one of the most exciting of the event but also perhaps an exciting precursor to many more battles between the two. Raonic has already proved earlier this year he’s a force to be reckoned with on the ATP Tour, but Harrison with his string of wins down in the desert has proved the hype he earned at last year’s U.S. Open was deserved.
As that match was ending, another one between two current American stars was just beginning on the main stadium as John Isner and Andy Roddick began what many though would be a tight encounter decided by huge serves and several tiebreaks. The serves were huge but the match ended up being one-way traffic for Roddick as he cruised to a 7-5, 6-2 win over Isner who offered little resistance once the first set was done. Isner said after the match, “I’ve never played this bad, have no confidence and have no idea why.”
While Roddick continues to shine, it’s the recent sub-par performances of Isner and his doubles partner Sam Querrey that has many U.S. fans scratching their heads. Isner, who’s lost some tough matches, especially a tight one versus Marin Cilic in Melbourne, appears to slipping back in terms of his game and his demeanor on court. For a while, Isner was viewed as more of a fighter than Querrey in touch matches, but lately Isner gets dejected too soon after he goes down early in a match. Add in an overreliance on his first serve and his inability to do anything when returning serve and you get a dangerous formula that could have the big man fall out of the top fifty and back to clawing his way past the big names too early in events as he did back in 2009. And as for Querrey, good luck in figuring him out. Querrey’s last few matches have seen him give away match points or just give up as he did today versus an ailing Tommy Robredo in a losing 1-6, 3-6 effort. And though he’s still a comfortable No. 24 in the rankings, it wouldn’t surprise me if Querrey just shrugs his shoulders as he falls out of the top 40 by the end of the clay court season.
And that’s why I think it’s not too premature to view Ryan Harrison as the future of American tennis. For one thing, Harrison isn’t afraid to mix things up on the court, sometimes too much especially on big points, but it’s something he admits to and that he’s trying to learn the best way to handle those moments. The one thing I love about Harrison’s game is that he’s willing to attack on his return of serve at will, something that even Roddick rarely does. Harrison and his “hothead” moments turn off some people, but it doesn’t seem to affect his play. At least Harrison shows emotion on court instead of Isner and Querrey who just seem to lumber from point to point lately without any real purpose or, I hate to say it, desire to be there.
It’s not too late for Isner and Querrey to turn things around, and I hope they do, but I just don’t see either of them ever being more than at best top 20 players, let alone contend for a Grand Slam title. They may be younger than Roddick and could be on tour after Andy retires, but I see them getting passed by the likes of Harrison, Raonic and the other young guns waiting out there. I actually view Harrison as the heir apparent to Roddick in many ways, some good and some bad, but we’ll see what happens. Roddick’s comments on the Harrison/Raonic match are quite telling to me. “That third set was a microcosm of exciting things to come from both of them. I was really proud of Ryan. We’ve talked a lot the last couple of weeks about him kind of staying the course and not losing his composure too much. I hope he learns that lesson quicker than I did. He certainly did today…The other thing, with Raonic, kid’s down two breaks, he brings it back and comes within a point of bringing it back. That’s a big thing…So I liked the match. I like their attitudes and how they go about their business better.”
A lot of fans were hoping for Raonic/Federer fourth round encounter but instead it’s Harrison who now get to show us how he’ll handle playing the biggest match of his life against the best player of all time. Harrison might go down in an hour, but you’ll know he’ll go down swinging as would Raonic whom I’m sure will face Federer soon enough. The young men proved yesterday that they handle “their business” quite well at such a young age. But If Isner and Qurrey don’t figure out what’s going wrong with their games, and more important, their heads, they’re both likely to be “out of business” very soon.