As the somewhat quiet month of February (at least in the tennis world) concluded, one player made an unexpected yet welcomed return to relevance again.
Ryan Harrison, the now 22-year-old American, who not that long along was tipped as the “next big thing” reached the Acapulco ATP 500 semifinals last week.
After an injury marred 2014 season, Harrison almost fell out of the top 200. Yet, the Louisiana native is making steady progress this year. With his efforts in Acapulco that included upsetting defending champion Grigor Dimitrov for his first ever top 10 win, Harrison is once again knocking on the top 100 rankings.
It wasn’t that long ago that Harrison was predicted by many (including yours truly) to be the next great American player. Harrison’s breakthrough win at the US Open over Ivan Ljubicic a few years ago first gained him international attention. As Harrison later rose to inside the top 50, it seemed that it would only be a few years before he knocked on the top 10 itself.
That didn’t happen for a variety of reasons. Some of that was due to Harrison’s success becoming a double-edged sword. As expectations grew among U.S. tennis fans, impatient for the next heir to Andy Roddick, pressure on Harrison increased. Some of that pressure self-inflicted.
In a recent interview with Tennis.com, Harrison talked about how that expectation became so intense that he refused to read positive media reports about him. Only the bad ones, perhaps in an effort to either prove them wrong or maybe fix something they saw in his game that wasn’t even broken. Harrison, after his tough 2014 season, moved back to Austin, Texas, reunited with his old coach who first took him to success, and patched things up with his dad and former coach after their public blowup during a match in Miami made headlines.
Harrison isn’t the only young American with potential to perhaps take that next step up the ranks. Donald Young continues to rejuvenate his career after early setbacks, College standout Steve Johnson is becoming a more solid and consistent player. And there’s Jack Sock, another who cites Roddick as an influence, who certainly has the weapons and power to achieve much.
Yet it’s Harrison who remains as the American hope with that certain “it”. Call it personality, call it presence, or call it star power. Harrison, despite his recent woes, still held onto that potent intangible quality that excite, fascinate and compel not only tennis fans, but the all-important group of sponsors, promoters and organizers ready to cash in on Harrison. As long as his results merit it.
Harrison, even as a teenager, seemed aware of his “it” potential. Perhaps too much so. A self-professed desire to be the very best, though appreciated, sometimes smacked of unearned hubris. His drive to win often boiled over in many of his matches into petulant meltdowns bordering on rage. Harrison in Acapulco said he is working on being more calm on the court and actually enjoying playing, and not “…look like I’m going to kill someone out there all the time.” as Harrison joked in his Acapulco press conference. Now happier in his personal life off-court, Harrison, perhaps is not getting mellow, but just growing up. With the ATP tour continuing to be dominated at the moment by veterans, many of them over the age of 30, Harrison certainly has plenty of time to find his next level.
Harrison still wants to be the best and for that we have lot to look forward to in his career. While his Acapulco success is good news, even he is probably the first to now say “let’s take this week by week and see what happens”, rather than start projecting future results or where his career will ultimately take him. Like most teenagers, Harrison a few years ago wanted everything now. Today, he appears to enjoy just the journey, with all its peaks – and valleys – much more. Often, taking the longer than expected route makes arriving at your destination that much sweeter.