Nadal tale a good lesson for Harrison

Ryan Harrison, the 19-year-old from Shreveport, La., who is inching up the rankings as he improves week by week, received a tough lesson during a marathon duel with fleet-footed Frenchman Gilles Simon in the fourth round of the BMP Paribas Open as dusk fell over the desert.

Harrison, who went down 7-6 (0), 5-7, 6-1, learned that no matter how good a ball you hit, it can always come back. And against Simon, it usually does. The frustration set in early for Harrison, who splintered his racket in the sixth game of the first set. But he recovered his composure quickly and staged a fantastic fight back in the second set from 2-5 down after saving match point.

As he maintained afterwards, the final set could have played out very differently. “The third set was deceivingly close,” he said. “I had break points at 1-all, a game point at 1-2, I had a game point at 1-3 and then I’m down 1-4 before I know it. Missed a couple of balls, and the next thing I know I’m done. If I get the crowd behind me at 1-1 and get the momentum, I could be on the other end of this score line.”

Simon agreed. “He was playing better than me at the start of the third set and some balls were very close on the line,” the man from the Cote d’Azur said. “But eventually I think he got tired and I was able to win.”

Any fatigue Harrison might have been feeling was understandable. The appreciative crowd on Stadium Court Two was treated to some extraordinary rallies, with Simon’s spindly legs carrying him from one end of his baseline to another as he ran down everything the American threw at him. One rally in particular that lasted 40 strokes ended with Simon leaping to crack away a backhand winner down the line.

Harrison insisted that he was disappointed but not frustrated by the loss. “He’s been in the top 10 in the world,” he pointed out. “He’s obviously a good player. Everyone does something frustrating because they’re good at it. That’s why they are the best.”

Harrison was less sanguine when questioned about his tendency to break rackets. He is known as a very intelligent, very committed but very intense young man who has a temper bubbling just below the surface. He’s learning how to control it, but letting rip as early as the sixth game of a match seems a bit excessive.

“I didn’t think my temper was out of control today,” he said. “I didn’t think I lost the match because of my emotions.”

That much was true. It was the opposite that, to this observer, appears worrying. In an earlier match, Harrison said that he used the racket-smashing tactic to gee himself up. That appeared to be the case again today. If so, he needs to find some other method because it sets a poor example.

Happily there is a very fine example on the tour in the person of Rafael Nadal. The tennis world has heard the story of his uncle, Toni Nadal, essentially telling the 6-year-old Nadal, “You throw one racket and I’m no longer your coach. There are millions of kids in the world who would love a racket and don’t have one.”

What is less well known is a story I heard this week. Apparently, Marc Lopez, Rafa’s close friend who played doubles with Nadal on Wednesday night, smashed a racket when the pair were playing a doubles match here a couple of years ago. At practice the next day, Nadal told Lopez, “Don’t ever do that again or we won’t play together anymore.”

Lopez looked at him as if he was joking. “No, I’m serious,” Rafa shot back. “Don’t ever do it again.”

Nadal and Lopez reached the semifinals with a 6-3, 7-6 (5) win over Leander Paes and Radek Stepanek. I didn’t see the whole match, but it’s a safe bet no rackets were thrown on the Spanish side of the net.