Ryan Harrison was defeated yesterday afternoon in the first round of the US Open Men’s Singles tournament by 28th ranked Marin Cilic of Croatia. After failing to convert several break points at 1-1 in the first set, Harrison was immediately broken by Cilic in the following game and again in his next service game. Harrison broke back down 5-1 but eventually succumbed to Cilic in the first set 6-2. He would go on to lose the match 6-2 7-5 7-6(6) having served for both the second and third sets.
Harrison’s was severely hampered by his first serve percentage and his inability to construct points playing as if he were a backboard for Cilic. In addition, Harrison proved to be extremely irate throughout not only the first set, but the entire match. These displays of anger included yelling, kicking balls into the crowd, and racket tossing. While this proves Harrison is a player that really cares about his game, it would be more useful for him to channel his emotions in a positive manner rather than give away his hand to his opponent. Mats Wilander, the former world number one from Sweden and now tennis channel commentator, essentially stated that there was absolutely no reason for Harrison to be losing his cool in the first set because in a best of five match the first set should be used to develop form for the rest of the match whether you win or lose it.
Harrison also failed to execute a strategically sound game plan against the Croatian. Harrison was found lodged way behind the baseline with no intentions of looking to move forward and seize the initiative. His defensive stance often proved to be ineffective as Cilic would capitalize on Harrison’s floaters by moving in and crushing forehands for winners. This seemed to be the most often repeated pattern of the match and as evidenced in the outcome it did not bode well for the young American.
When Harrison chose to take up a more aggressive, offensive minded attitude he was successful in breaking down the Cilic forehand as the depth and pace of his ground strokes proved difficult for Cilic to handle. Harrison, in my assessment, failed to recognize that Cilic’s forehand was virtually unstoppable when played in the forecourt and as a result needed to keep Cilic well behind the baseline off the forehand side. Playing passive against an opponent who can hit you off the court makes very challenging to win.
The final problem I saw in Harrison’s games was his inability to raise the level of his game in the big moments. Harrison as aforementioned served for the second and third sets but was easily broken each time. It should be said that one of the major factors that separates the top guys from everyone else is their ability to play the big points and strive under pressure. If Harrison is unable from a mental standpoint to convert his energy into positive thinking during the big points he is undoubtedly going to struggle.
With all this being said, I really believe Harrison possesses the desire, determination, and work ethic to become a top 10 player. If he is able to overcome his mental demons, develop intelligent game plans to adapt to each opponent, and raise his level of play when it is most needed, I predict Harrison will be in the top 20 before 2012.