Thursday, December 8, 2011

Perspective: Ryan Harrison Needs a Stabilizing Coaching Relationship

A lot has changed with regard to Ryan Harrison's coaching situation in the last nine months; then again, a lot hasn't. For Harrison, the coaching carousel continues to spin. He's beginning a relationship with Grant Doyle as of this week. That's great news for Doyle, who did some fine coaching work with Sam Querrey and has also made a name for himself running a high performance academy in Austin, Texas.

As far as what it will mean for Harrison, I guess we'll have to wait and see. Will Doyle stick? Will he be able to gain the trust of his young charge and really make a difference, or will he play the role of chaperone, while Harrison's father steers the career of his son from a distance?

I hope it's the former. I think that Harrison would benefit greatly from a trusting coach-player relationship. Here's what Harrison said about the subject in March (which was two coaches ago, fyi):

Q: Is having your coaching situation, or having it in flux -- has that affected you at all?

Harrison: Obviously we're looking to get the coaching situation sorted out as soon as possible. You want to have that stable environment around you, and that's exactly why it's taken so long. Because it's tough to just bring someone in and say 'okay, I trust this person.'

Just meeting somebody new and trusting that person is just -- you can't just do that. You have to build a relationship with somebody and get to a point where you do trust what they're saying. And that's what a coach has to do.

Nine months later, stability is still a missing ingredient. But there is hope that things might be heading in the right direction. Doyle, who was a former No. 1-ranked Australian junior, topped out in the ATP Rankings at No. 173, but he's been a dedicated coach and mentor to young players for quite some time now.

Doyle's tour results are not important here. What really matters is his ability to fill a void for Harrison. While Harrison has made great strides in the last two years, he has also demonstrated the ability to sabotage his own progress with counterproductive tantrums.

The recurring Harrison theme? Steadily improving play marred by steadily recurring meltdowns. There are some who believe the youngster should stick to his guns and play with an edge to honor the fiery American tradition, but those in the know realize that emulating the temperament of a John McEnroe isn't necessarily a blueprint for climbing the ATP ladder. Let's keep in mind: McEnroe was different in that he was able to overcome his temper issues with uncannily brilliant tennis. People seem eager to attribute McEnroe's success to his "edge," but I've always believed that he might have been more successful had he not had the volatility issues (see 1984 French Open final).

Let's face it: having a temper is a liability. Harrison needs to get the memo: temper tantrums are so 1980. The players who are winning Slams in this day and age have the ability to compartmentalize their stress. Elite players are zen in the modern era. If Harrison wants to earn elite status, he should pay heed to the temperaments of the Federer's and Nadal's of the world.

Doyle's mission will be threefold when it comes to his budding acolyte: 1. Let Harrison's game continue to blossom (that's the easy part, as Harrison has all the strokes and heightened tactical awareness) 2. Develop the trust and stability that Harrison spoke of in March and 3. Get the kid to stop blowing up on the court.

Is Doyle qualified for such a mission? And even if he is, will Harrison deem him so?

With Harrison only 13 spots off his career-high ranking and still six months from his 20th birthday, he's in a nice position to start 2012. He's a feisty kid with the burning desire to improve.

Maybe a little too feisty at times, but that is -- hopefully -- where Doyle can help.


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