Ryan Harrison reacts during his first-round match against Ivan Dodig.
© Clive Brunskill/Getty Images
By Matt Cronin, special to USTA.com
WIMBLEDON, England -- On a tearful Tuesday for a couple of other American players, the usually emotional Ryan Harrison stayed calm and collected and took out Ivan Dodig, 7-6 (5), 6-0, 7-5, to win his first match at Wimbledon. It was a significant victory for the 19-year-old, who is widely considered to have the most potential of any young U.S. male and has worked his butt off during the European season to make inroads.
He won two rounds of qualifying at both Roland Garros and Wimbledon but went down in the final rounds of both. Fortunately, he was able to get in as a lucky loser on both occasions. In Paris, he was somewhat unlucky and drew two-time finalist Robin Soderling in the first round and fell. In London, he wasn't too fortunate, either, drawing the Croatian Dodig, who had just reached the final of the ATP grass-court tennis tournament in 's-Hertogenbosch the week before. But unlike in qualifying, when he lost his temper and a five-setter against Cedrik-Marcel Steeb, he was able to keep composed and played consistent, authoritative tennis throughout.
"A lot of it is my head," he said. "I have the ability to play well when my head is in the right place and under control and playing aggressively. I got a little tentative [in the qualifying], and I need to play the same game, regardless of who is on the other side of the net."
While Harrison stayed contained, his compatriots Serena Williams and Melanie Oudin both poured their hearts out. Serena said that her 6-3, 3-6, 6-1 victory over Aravane Rezai in the first round of Wimbledon was her most emotional ever, while the Fed Cupper Oudin wept in sorrow after being bullied, 6-1, 6-0, by Ana Ivanovic, later saying that she can't shake the tension out of her hands when she goes on court.
While Harrison is no John McEnroe or Jimmy Connors when it comes to outbursts, he can get as edgy as his mentor Andy Roddick does and says he's been breaking racquets since he has been five years old.
Roddick has done a fair amount of work with Harrison and likes his make up but says he needs to find the right balance.
"He's got ability. He's got to harness that energy a little bit. He goes a little mental sometimes. That's coming from me," Roddick said with a big smile. "For him, I think it's been the ears at this point. He certainly serves well. He competes. I think everything that's going to be tough for him is going to make him better, too, because he cares so much about winning and losing, which I don't think we've had enough of, frankly, in the States as far as the up-and-coming players. It's just a matter of, I think, him figuring out a comfortable line where it's not a different emotion every day."
Harrison agreed with the assessment, saying that if he wasn't trying to contend with his emotions on court, he would be a lot more successful. He has a very promising all-around game that still needs time to mature, but it's clear that he is a former collegiate star's kid, as he's comfortable hitting almost every type of shot. Like seven-time Grand Slam champion McEnroe once was, Harrison is pretty reasonable while sitting down after his matches, discussing how he should keep his temper in check, but it's a whole different experience when his heart is racing on court.
"I've been such a fiery competitor since I was young, but the same thing that has helped me can hurt me," Harrison said. "I put so much heart and soul into every match, which is a great trait, but it can hurt you, as well. The toughest thing is when I feel like I underachieve. It's easy to let your talent flow when you have nothing to lose [against more accomplished players] in front of supportive crowds, but when I'm playing just in front of my coach, I can lose my concentration."
No. 122-ranked Harrison wants to have a good self image and says he was brought up to say "Yes Sir" and "Yes Ma'am" from the time he was a toddler. He says what has begun to help him is showing more positive emotion because when he's merely trying to keep calm and something goes bad, he's more apt to let all his emotions out in a negative sense, but when he's more celebratory of his good shots, it helps him stay in a positive frame of mind, even when things aren't going right.
"I don't want to have this problem on a daily basis in a year or two," said Harrison, who will face seventh seed David Ferrer in the next round. "I'm trying my hardest to make sure that it becomes a habit to control my temper, just like it can be a habit to get frustrated."