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Harrison aims high vs. Djokovic

June 26, 2012 07:56 AM
Ryan Harrison in action during his first-round match.
By Matt Cronin, special to USTA.com

-- It may or may not be time for Ryan Harrison to score a huge win at a major, but if the 20-year-old does shock No. 1 and defending champion Novak Djokovic in the second round of Wimbledon, don't be too surprised.

The tough-minded native of Louisiana doesn’t pull punches when it comes to what he expects from himself, and after taking down Yen-Hsun Lu, 4-6, 6-3, 6-4, 6-2, in the first round of Wimbledon on Monday, Harrison said he is not going out there with the tired cliché of 'I have nothing to lose' hanging around his neck.
"Novak is giving me a standard that he stepped up, and I need to step up," Harrison said. "That's how I think. I’ve never told myself in a match that I can just swing out because, if I lose, no one expected me to win and he’s No. 1 in the world. When he raises the bar, I am going to try and raise the bar, and when I raise the bar, he's going to try and raise it. That's what two guys playing at a high level are going to do."
Harrison was one of the bright spots on an up-and-down day in London for the United States, when he, Ryan Sweeting and Michael Russell came through on the men's side, but 10th-seed John Isner, former top-five player James Blake and the slumping Donald Young lost.
On the women's side, five-time Wimbledon champion Venus Williams took her worst loss ever in London, when she fell to Elena Vesnina, 6-2, 6-3, while Melanie Oudin, who had won the tournament in Birmingham two weeks ago, took a difficult three-set loss to Timea Babos. Vania King also went down to No. 23 Petra Cetkovska.
But another young player, Jamie Hampton, pulled off  a huge win, taking down No. 27 Daniel Hantuchova, 6-4, 7-6 (1), while teenager Sloane Stephens raced past Karolina Pliskova, 6-2, 6-2. American Christina McHale, seeded No. 28, had her match against Britain's Johanna Konta suspended for darkness at 7-7 in the third set.
Hampton, who is contending with two herniated disks in her back, called the victory over Hantuchova the biggest in her career. It was the 22-year-old's first match on grass, and although she didn't convert her first two match points at 5-4, she hung tough and confused the Slovak with her variety.
"I got a little tight, but I was proud of the way I hung in there," said Hampton, who works with USTA Coach Sylvain Guichard. "I had never been in the situation before, so everything was new. I tried to keep her off balance." 

Hampton will face young Briton Heather Watson in the second round, which is sure to be on a show court.
Another American, former No. 1 Andy Roddick, has become a mentor to Harrison, and last week in Eastbourne, they hung out together and talked shop. Roddick is nearly a decade older than Harrison, but they are cut from the same mold: straight-talking men and hard-core competitors.
Going into Eastbourne, Roddick was on a six-match losing streak but then suddenly turned it around and won the title. During the week, he talked to Harrison about staying the course and not getting too up or down depending on results because things tend to even out over the long haul.
"The biggest thing he emphasizes is consistency and realizing it's never as bad as it seems and it just takes a couple of points here and there," Harrison said. "He's on a losing streak. Everyone is talking about how he has no chance. Then he wins Eastbourne, and all of a sudden, he's a dark horse. Did he really become that much better again in seven days? No, it's a confidence thing. He was in trouble against [Fabio] Fognini in the quarters of Eastbourne and won 7-5 in the third and then wins the tournament. Now he’s feeling great, and he’s ready to go. It's not just about riding your winning streaks and waves of confidence. You have to learn not to have self doubt when things don’t go your way."
Harrison just cracked the top 50 for the first time and says that last year he was more in awe of situations when he was playing reputations and personalities, rather than just shots coming back.
"I don't see the aura that Novak has around him because of all the success he has," he said. "When the match starts, it’s about how to beat the guy who's hitting shots, and it doesn’t matter who it is. I’m going to play that way, and hopefully it will go well."
After going down to Gilles Simon in four sets at Roland Garros in a match he had chances in, Harrison came to the conclusion that he wasn’t fit enough, so he called USTA Coach Jay Berger, who hooked him up with USTA Strength and Conditioning Specialist Bret Waltz, whom he began to work with at Eastbourne. Waltz also works with McHale and Oudin, among others.
"I was watching the French final (between Djokovic and Nadal), and I realized that these guys are in pretty good shape. I’m in really good shape when it comes to everyday people, but when it comes to those guys' standards, I wasn't at the point where I needed to be. That's when I called Jay and said, 'I really want to hit it really hard during the next month.' The USTA has always been in my corner. "
Harrison and Djokovic played in the first round of Cincinnati last year, and Harrison felt he was dictated to, but he did not call the 6-2, 6-3 win for Djokovic a blowout, saying that there were a number of hard-fought rallies. Still, he wasn’t thrilled about how he played.
"I was reacting to what he was doing, but the more I have come into my own, I’ve learned I can't just react to those guys," Harrison said. "A guy like Novak, if you allow him to just play his game, he's going to beat you, so I have to take my chances. There are times during the match where he's going to play fantastic tennis and I am going to have to keep my composure and step up."


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