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Harrison ready to close the gap at Australian Open

January 13, 2013 12:01 PM
Ryan Harrison looks to do some damage at the 2013 Australian Open.
By Matt Cronin, special to USTA.com
MELBOURNE, Australia — Former US Open champion Andy Roddick has retired, former Top 10 player Mardy Fish is taking time off to recovery from heart trouble and top American John Isner pulled out of the Australian Open with a knee injury. 
That leaves the likes of 20-year-old Ryan Harrison, veteran Brian Baker and 20th seed Sam Querrey to pick up the slack. None of them are favored to win the Australian Open, not with two-time defending champion Novak Djokovic, US Open champion Andy Murray and 17-time Grand Slam champion Roger Federer still playing at a high level, but the Americans do expect themselves to compete hard, play well and possibly do some major damage. 
"We certainly know that people in the U.S. like winners and want people to be contending, and tennis is no exception to that," Harrision said. "Ranking-wise, I got to 43 last year and I know I can crack into Top 40, Top 30, but with that said, you have to get to the first step to get to the fifth step. It’s possible to get to the Top 20, but there are so many steps along the way." 
After a workmanlike offseason where he shed six pounds and spent more time in the gym and on the track than on the court, Harrison feels prepared in his third year on the tour—to be able to trade blows with the elite players as well as win matches that are on his racquet. 
"Fitness was the biggest thing for me because I could last five sets without cramping, but as far as doing that at a high level without the letdowns, looking at my service games, I would let go at 3-3, 4-4, and I noticed I was losing focus because I was feeling a little more fatigued," the 68th ranked Harrison said. "I wouldn’t say I'm as fit as the top guys yet, but I‘ve definitely closed the gap." 
Harrison’s first two weeks Down Under showed his physical improvement, as well as his better understanding of what his weapons are. Most importantly, he’s decided to be more assertive. He’s a very good defensive player who can keep rallies in neutral, but he feels that in 2012 he wasn't going from neutral to fifth gear quickly enough. 
At the Australian Open tune-ups in Brisbane and Auckland, he didn't tire and pushed himself forward. He won three matches in the Brisbane qualifying before falling to Tommy Robredo, then also qualified for Sydney and upset Isner in second round before falling to Julien Benneteau. Harrison has a big serve, so holding usually isn’t a problem, but breaking has been, so he decided to be more aggressive in return games. 
"I don't want to be running miles more than anyone on court," Harrison said. "Even though it’s good luxury to have to be able to run, you don't want to it every point." 
A super-competitive sort who has had problem with his temper, he’s also trying to look at the bright side of his game.
"What I’ve been continuing to improve on is my emotions and staying positive," he said. "I feel like I'm doing a better job of that, [of] just really enjoying the process, not being too caught up in the panic of trying to win each match and trying to look pretty in each match." 
During the offseason, Harrison hired Texan Tres Davis as his traveling coach to work alongside his father Pat, but there’s also another person who is having a major impact on his career: Roddick, whom he trained with in Austin for three weeks during the winter.
"He’s been helping a lot," Harrison said. "So much at this point is not technical or changing stokes, it’s footwork, energy management, body management, not wasting time and focus and being smart not to complain about a first serve call at deuce. He’s very much in the loop. He is texting me every day while I’m in Australia and he’s really proactive. I’m fortunate to have the relationship with him that I do."
Harrison has also rekindled his coaching-pupil relationship with his father Pat, a teaching pro who coaches his younger brother Christian and was high-level collegiate player. Ryan said that as he’s matured, he has begun to see his dad in a different light.
"The whole father-son coaching relationship is tender situation and you have to be smart about it. Fortunately, my dad and I’s relationship has gotten better and better over the last two years," Harrison said. "I’m getting older and we’ve had as good as relationship as we’ve ever had, and that's why I am so excited this year. Everything is in a good place.
"Part of it is maturity on my part. You get to the point where everything your dad is telling you seems like criticism and them you get older and you realize that he’s saying things for your best interest. You can have disagreements that can be productive conservations, rather than arguments."
Harrison will open his 2013 Australian Open campaign against Colombia’s Santiago Giraldo, the same guy who took him out of the Olympics. Should he get a measure of revenge there, he will more than likely find his way to Rod Laver Arena against Djokovic in the second round. That’s a brutal draw, but he’s started his season in fine fashion and if he keeps positive and assertive, who knows, he could push the Serbian to his limits.
"I don't think there is any substitution for winning, no matter what level it comes at," Harrison said. "It becomes contagious. You start feeling more confident, and I felt consistently more confident every day moving forward. I'm really excited about it."
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For more coverage of American players at the 2013 Australian Open, see:


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