One day the draw is going to be kind to Ryan Harrison. But playing a top-eight player in the second round for the fourth time in his last five Grand Slams isn’t exactly something the young American views with dismay.
Even if it is the very top of the top eight.
As reward for producing a steady, mature performance in testing conditions out on Court No. 8 to beat Santiago Giraldo of Colombia in Monday’s opening round of the Australian Open, Harrison will face world No. 1 Novak Djokovic on Wednesday.
“No, I don’t find it frustrating,” Harrison replied to questions about having to play Djokovic after beating Giraldo 2-6, 6-4, 7-5, 6-4. “I look at it as a good opportunity. It’s a privilege to be able to play big players on the big courts. It’s what drives me. Especially now as I feel different this year. I am full of confidence after all the work I did in the offseason.”
That work included sessions at home in Austin, Texas, during which Andy Roddick was frequently on hand, and later at Nick Bollettieri’s famed camp in Bradenton, Fla.
Harrison, 20, has always been a hard worker. So he was a bit surprised to discover after taking the Gatorade Sports Science Institute’s fitness test that he needed to lose weight.
“So I lost five or six pounds,” he said. “It can make the difference in being able to maintain focus and concentration in five set matches. I lost the weight by dieting and not just eating the right foods but learning when and how often to eat.”
Roddick, as ever, was taking care of Harrison’s other needs.
“I’ve been really fortunate that Andy has always been there for me,” Harrison said. “He has helped me with my footwork and with my energy management and emotional management. Having him around during those training weeks was great. He loves tennis even though he has retired from the tour so he is always willing to play.”
It is clear that if Harrison does not achieve his oft-stated goal of becoming No. 1 in the world, it will not be for want of trying. There are those who say Harrison piles too much pressure on himself with these publicly stated ambitions.
“I’m comfortable with it,” said Harrison, who lost to Djokovic in the second round at Wimbledon last year. “I am not going to sit here and say I am going to breeze through to the top. I have always said I expect a lot of myself but I understand the process. I understand what it will take to get there. It is the best recipe for me.”
The most interesting facet of Harrison’s victory over Giraldo, a 25-year-old only two places below the American at 64 in the ATP ranking, was the way he adapted to the conditions during the match.
“My natural game is to be aggressive,” he said. “But the conditions were brutal out there with gusty winds and I had to adjust to what was not working. I had to take a step back and start playing slices to throw him out of his rhythm. I didn’t really hit the ball well today but I trusted my fitness and ground it out.”
There was never much chance of the veteran Frenchman Paul-Henri Mathieu doing Harrison a favor by taking Djokovic out of his path. The defending champion went through, 6-2, 6-4, 7-5 on Rod Laver Arena and professed himself happy with his performance although adding, “There are a few adjustments I need to make and get a little sharper on court. It’s expected in the first match.”
Of Harrison, Djokovic said, “He’s one of those up-and-coming young talents who has been doing well on the tour and likes playing on hard courts. I’ve played him a few times on different surfaces. I know what it takes to win this match.”
Ominous. But Harrison will go into it believing in himself knowing it is all part of what he has to endure along the ambitious path he has set himself.
Venus Williams has travelled that path and is not done yet. Despite her health problems, the older Williams sister is just as keen to play top-class tennis as she was as a teenager, and spoke about it after dismissing Galina Voskoboeva, the world’s 80th-ranked player from Kazakhstan, 6-1, 6-0.
“I’m trying to make my 20th anniversary on the tour,” said Venus, who has now been a pro for 18 years. “My goals in ’95? I didn’t even know what I was doing. I just thought I had a dream and thought I could do it. Now I have done a lot of things and really don’t have anything to prove except for my desire to play well. That’s really what it’s all about at this point, just getting the best out of me.”
Venus is so relaxed these days that she is quite happy to make fun of herself. Asked if she sensed the court the court on Hisense Arena (the No. 2 stadium here) was slower than the practice courts, she replied, laughing, “I’m a very unsensitive player. I can’t sense anything almost — no feel. I’m not the one to ask because I don’t notice the differences much. I just play. I don’t care if the racket is tight or not tight. I just play.”
Not that it has hampered her too much — as seven Grand Slam titles prove.
Of the other Americans to advance, none scored a more impressive victory that Tim Smyczek, the 25-year-old from Milwaukee who only got into the draw as lucky loser from qualifying. Unperturbed by having to face a serve that is considered the biggest in the game, Smyczek defeated the giant Croat, Ivo Karlovic, 6-4, 7-6, 7-5.
Teenager Madison Keys enhanced her growing reputation by defeating the Australian Casey Dellacqua 6-4, 7-6 while Brian Baker came through a tough five setter against the Florida-based Russian Alex Bogomolov Jr. 7-6, 6-3, 6-7, 3-6, 6-2.
Sam Querrey, the 20th seed and highest ranked American following the withdrawal of John Isner, recovered from losing the first set to beat Spain’s Daniel Munoz-De La Nava 6-7, 6-4, 6-2, 6-4.
Steve Johnson put up a brave, if vain, fight against 10th-seeded Nicolas Almagro before going down 7-5, 6-7, 6-2, 6-7, 6-2. "I lost control of my serve in the final set," Johnson admitted. "But he is a great player and I can only take positives out of this. It’s a learning experience."