By Erik Gudris
NORCROSS, Georgia – Even before he stepped on court today, young American Ryan Harrisonâ€™s reputation preceded him in both positive and negative ways. On the positive side, he possesses an exciting all-court game that many love to watch. But Harrisonâ€™s other reputation as a volatile player who breaks racquets and yells obscenities at linespeople and umpires is one that doesnâ€™t sit well with many fans who are ready to embrace Harrison as not just a breakout American star but also as a possible heir apparent to Mardy Fish and Andy Roddick as the next top U.S. player.
Harrisonâ€™s second round match at the Atlanta Tennis Championships against veteran Belgian Xavier Malisse had a little bit of everything including a tiebreak, a lengthy rain delay and several moments of hothead behavior from both players that culminated in a testy exchange of words late in the third set. Malisse and Harrison exchanged breaks in the first set leading to a tiebreak that saw Harrison go down a quick 0-4. In frustration, Harrison yelled out something that the umpire thought was an obscenity, leading him to give Harrison a verbal abuse warning. After Malisse went on to win the first set tiebreak, Harrison managed to compose himself in the second set to break Malisse at 3-2 and then hold serve to close out the set 6-4.
Early in the third set, dark clouds and persistent lightning suspended the match giving way to an hour and an half rain delay. When play resumed, Harrison dropped serve and dropped kicked his racquet to give Malisse a 3-1 lead and it seemed the veteran might race away with the win. But after Harrison won an extended rally to break back at 2-3, during the changeover, both men got into a testy exchange. Harrison held serve and then at 4-4, Malisse played a loose service game to give Harrison another break. Harrison then had no problem serving out the match 6-7 (3), 6-4, 6-4.
When asked about the exchange he had with Malisse afterwards, Harrison said, â€œWhen I broke him back (in third set) he said some things that I wasn’t too happy with. So I said some things back that Iâ€™m sure he wasnâ€™t happy with either. Thereâ€™s no reason to go into details about it. Weâ€™re both competitive and want to win. Iâ€™ve known him down in Florida for awhile and weâ€™ve always been fine in the past and I have no resentment towards him.â€
Handling his emotions on court when things are going well and going not so well seems to be the biggest challenge for Harrison right now. â€œItâ€™s just the way my mind is wired. I like it when it gets intense. So when it gets competitive like that when someone says something to you, the ultimate goal is to go out and win and have the last laugh there. I had a couple of tough service games there late in the third set. Wasnâ€™t a break point but the good thing about it was I was fired up and ready to play. So when I had something negative happen I let it go by and when I had something positive I tried to fuel it to get me going. So thatâ€™s something I need to work on more for future matches.â€
Now into the quarterfinals, Harrison will next face another veteran, American Rajeev Ram. If Harrison can keep his cool, not only physically as another scorching day is expected weather wise, but also emotionally, is something U.S. tennis fans will be keeping a close eye on not only for this week, but for many months to come.
Erik Gudris writes and moderates the tennis news site Adjustingthenet.com. Follow him all week on Twitter at @GVTennisNews