By Jane Voigt
(Washington D. C.) — On the steamiest afternoon so far in this week’s Citi Open, Juan Martin del Potro took charge of his first match post Wimbledon to defeat fan-favorite American, Ryan Harrison.
“Really well,” Del Potro said, when asked how he felt being back on court in a match. “Ryan is a tough opponent for first one of tournament. I play well in the first, then [it’s] humid and the sun comes out and it was difficult for play. But I won first match and now I have time to recover for next match tonight.”
The match between Del Potro and Harrison had been scheduled to run last night, but was postponed due to rain. Therefore, Del Potro’s day was far from over. He had another match scheduled for this evening against Bernard Tomic, another young talented player.
“I have to play a tough match against Tomic,” Del Potro continued. “I know he’s going to be a fantastic player very very soon so it’s going to be an interesting match for me.”
Del Potro has never had to play two matches in a day, he said. To recover he will stay at the Rock Creek Park facility, eat, and watch match videos. An hour before the match he will start to warm up. “I think I will be very very ready,” he added.
Harrison did not sign autographs from fans as he passed into the tunnel of Stadium Court after his 61 75 loss. His frustration in the first set gave Del Potro an instant insight into his opponent’s attitude when the Louisiana native smashed a racquet.
“He hits well,” Del Potro said about Harrison. “He’s young. He needs to learn like all of us. In the first set he missed a lot and broke his racquet. It’s easier for us. We play harder then.”
Harrison probably feels the same pressure to perform well as other young Americans such as Jack Sock, who lost today to the No. 2 seed Kei Nishikori, Rhyne Williams, and Tim Smyczek, who lost to Tommy Haas, the No. 3 seed, in a three set duel that stretched two days. Haas will also have to play again tonight against Ivan Dodig who, like Tomic, will be rested.
Harrison was reflective about his performance in the first set where he won only 56% on first serves and no points off his second serve. For a player who just turned 21 in May, though, Harrison’s responses imparted a rather polished manner, although he rarely spoke in the first person.
“Sometimes you go out there and you don’t feel as good as you want to,” Harrison began. “At that point you have to hang in there, hang tough and give yourself a chance.”
Harrison’s attitude about giving himself a chance is a mature one. Maria Sharapova knows deep in her heart that if she does well and puts herself in good match situations she has a chance.
“Juan is such a good player that if you’re not feeling well he’s very good at staying on top of you,” Harrison explained. “He doesn’t give you a whole lot of breathing room.”
Del Potro’s pressure put Harrison under ‘duress’ he said, which showed. It gave the Tower of Tandil, one of Del Potro’s nicknames, an edge that was heads and shoulders above the young American.
At the start of the second set Harrison knew he had to come up with something. At the changeover he contemplated his move. He thought about what he does well in a match, adding, “He wasn’t going to be missing random balls.”
Harrison wanted to go bigger on his serve, which should not have been a huge leap given the dismal stats from the first set. He wanted to use his slice and go down the line with it to open the court and give him a chance to put his forehand to work.
Harrison dug himself out of one game deficit when he served and volleyed. Certainly not a tactic used often, but one that kept his mind on an offensive track.
He stayed on serve, which gave him a chance to stretch the match to three sets. However, Del Potro continued to serve bullets — one clocked at 134 m.p.h.– and strike the ball with more force. The Tower of Tandil (his hometown in Argentina) did not want a three set encounter when he faced a second match tonight.
Unlike Del Potro, who felt the humidity on Stadium Court, Harrison was not affected. That’s an advantage for the Louisiana youngster in the upcoming weeks that lead to the U. S. Open.
“I’ve always lived in the heat and trained in the heat. I always prefer that it be scorching,” he said. “It’s going to be miserable for everyone, but I have a background that’s going to let me handle it a little bit better.”
Harrison will not play Rogers Cup in Montreal next week. Because his ranking is outside the top 100, at 107, he will have to qualify for the U. S. Open. The delicate balance between rest, practice, fitness and matches is a critical question he and his coaches will have to address right away. But such is the life of a promising young American player in this competitive men’s field.