In defeating Milos Raonic at Indian Wells, 18-year-old Ryan Harrison has reminded us that he just might be the real deal.
Ryan Harrison has a lot of respect for Milos Raonic. He's spoken about it in press conferences on several occasions, and he showed it at the net when the two shook hands after two-and-a-half hours of hotly contested tennis on Tuesday. But if you really wanted to understand how much respect the 18-year-old American had for his rival from North of the border, all you had to do was watch Harrison's celebration after match point of his 7-6(1), 4-6, 6-4 victory last night.
Harrison dropped his racquet, pinched both both elbows to his sides, faced his box and let out a guttural scream. You'd think he just won the tournament with that kind of reaction, but even if it seemed a tad incompatible with a 3rd round match at Indian Wells, there was good reason for Harrison to be excited.
Some of the tension that Harrison released after match point against Raonic dates back to last September, when he was the player -- more so than Raonic, who had already lost to Carsten Ball in the first round -- that seemed poised for a huge breakout at the U.S. Open. There, while riding a huge wave of American support after knocking out Ivan Ljubicic in the first round, Harrison squandered three match points against Sergiy Stakhovsky in a fifth set tiebreaker. Unfortunately for Harrison -- a fiery competitor with a well-crafted multi-dimensional game and eye-catching quickness -- the future hasn't looked as bright since.
When Harrison was asked last Friday if he still thought about the devastating loss, he was forthcoming with his thoughts. "I mean, obviously you think about it," said Harrison. "Anybody who was ever in a situation that was really important to them and failed would be lying if they told you they didn't think about it and aren't haunted by it," he added.
Clearly Harrison, who has had great difficulty scouring up ATP level wins since that fateful match on Grandstand, has had ample time to think about what he might have done differently that day.
That is why it must have been so sweet for him to blow three match points AND WIN yesterday, against a player who has recently achieved pretty much everything that Harrison is dreaming about doing on the ATP Tour.
Raonic has knocked off seven top-25 players, played two finals, and earned his first ATP title. He has also climbed over a hundred spots in the rankings since January 17th, from 152 to his current spot at 37.
Things haven't moved as quickly for Harrison.
His win over Jeremy Chardy in the first round at Indian Wells was his first ATP level victory since the U.S. Open. That is why the victory over Raonic must have felt so sweet for the 18-year-old -- and probably why his post-match celebration was so jubilant. Harrison ought to be thrilled that he beat a player that has gone from promising to lethal during 2011 -- only three others have been able to it, two of which were in the top-10 -- and that he did so in front of a boisterous crowd which very closely resembled the one he has bitter memories of disappointing in New York last September.
After the match, Harrison was asked about the differences he felt between the experience in New York and the experience of last night. "Well, for one, I won a tight match," he said. "You know, very similar feelings when it comes to the crowd and when it comes to being in the moment."
When Harrison came within two points of blowing his two break advantage in the third set, he was able to compose himself enough to make a clutch touch volley to secure his fourth match point, then he served an ace down the T to clinch the win.
It wasn't the match to end all matches, but in tennis, growing a career full of big wins has to start with one or two. Harrison needed this one, and the confidence that comes with it, to get to the next level. Now he can breathe a sigh of relief and forget about last September.
The future is bright again.
"I can't remember the thoughts going through my head at that point," said Harrison, of how he felt when he hammered the match-winning ace. "I was extremely excited."
"That was the biggest thing that I did well today, is that I stayed composed."