I heard and read a lot on Tuesday about Ryan Harrison, the 19 year old American hopeful who lost a close 3 set match in the 1st round to the #27 seed Marin Cilic while flashing a considerable temper along the way. The words I kept hearing and reading were nearly universal; Ryan’s attitude and demeanor were an embarrassment and he better grow up and learn to channel it quickly or risk losing the bright future so many think he has ahead of him.
Ryan played in the main draw of the US Open for the 2nd time this year. He is a highly emotional young man competing in full public view in the most important tournament of the year to him. Did he go overboard in his 1st round loss with the racket throwing and ball kicking? Maybe. Did it help him play better at the time? No. Should the chair umpire have warned him or even given him a point penalty with the accompanying financial penalty? Sure. The ump would have been doing his job properly and following the rules had he done so. But that’s not the real point here. (And if I’m picking the rules I want most closely enforced they are (a) time between points and (b) coaching from the stands, not code violations for throwing a racket or kicking a ball into the stands.)
I like Ryan Harrison’s fire…a lot. It’s a big part of his makeup and for him to try to over-suppress it at this stage of his career would be a mistake. That fire in his belly is one of the big reasons I think he can be a very good player. Using his fire and temper as a positive on the court is something he will learn with experience, which is what Monday’s loss to Cilic was for him. We are witnessing the early stages in the arc of Ryan’s career and watching how he handles the ups and downs going forward should be very interesting.
And just what exactly do grown adults expect of a 19 year old pro tennis player? Anyone who thinks someone with Ryan’s intensity will be able to override his emotions in a US Open match this year has likely forgotten how erratic they were at 19. The other side of the story I’d like to read about is what kind of pressure Ryan must be feeling in an era where all he hears from the media is that “American tennis is dying” and “no American male has won a major in years”. The guys in my era heard those same words (they weren’t whispers then either) and we used them as fuel for our fires (or at least I did). I hope he’ll be able to as well.
Ryan doesn’t need or deserve any sympathy. His life is exceptional already and will likely only get better. Being a pubic figure has both a benefit and a price tag and Ryan will be applauded to the “nth” degree after wins (as he was at last year’s US Open when he won one round) and kicked unmercifully when he’s down, like he was after Monday’s match. That’s simply part of the bargain he’s made. His responsibility also includes continuing the work that will allow him to live up to his potential, and that means not only getting better tactically but also learning how to best control and use the desire that rages deep inside for his own benefit when the pressure reaches it’s apex. He didn’t do it well here at the 2011 US Open but give him a few years to work it out and gain tour experience and I suspect he’ll have figured out which buttons he needs to push. I know one thing with Ryan…if it doesn’t happen it won’t be for a lack of effort.
Lastly, at a time when someone like Ryan Harrison is needed to fill a coming void in the American tennis landscape we should all remember this; the players the fans have been most connected to in my country are the American ones that gave them an emotional reaction, one way or the other…Agassi, Connors, McEnroe. They were all emotional players who were pilloried by the media in their time and are now the gold standard for the popularity of the sport in the US. On Monday Ryan provoked an audience reaction. That can’t be all bad.