The Youngsters, Plus One
August 29, 2011 -- Now is the time to watch the upstarts. The wildcards and qualifiers. These are the hungry ones -- the teenagers with courts lined up as far as they can see in their imaginations, and the veterans that have struggled for years never quite able to fire on all cylinders and move up the ranks.
American Ryan Harrison is the country's 19-year-old hopeful with the largest media portfolio. There are reasons for that. The Louisiana born and raised native has performed well during his nascent career, but not well enough to enter the main draw without the help of a wild card entry through the USTA -- the arbiters of this major. It is Harrison's second Open.
With or without help from the organization that governs tennis in the United States, today was not Ryan's day. Marlin Cilic, who turns 23 next month and once was a huge hope for the tennis-rich Croatia, took the wind out of Harrison's sails: 62 75 76(6). The loss ended the American's hopes to equal his impressive run to the second round in 2010 as a qualifier. He electrified fans then as he beat the #17 seed, Ivan Ljubicic, in four explosive sets and had match points in the next round against Sergey Stakhovsky in another spirited five set match.
Harrison rose from 173 to 67 in eight months this year. He arrived in New York stoked, after having made the semifinals in Atlanta and Los Angeles, two stops on the summer's U. S. Open Series tournament route.
Harrison's age, court intensity, and commitment to tennis will bode well for him. "He has all the shots," Martina Navratilova said on Tennis Channel today. "He's also a kind of cocky guy."
His intensity, or cockiness as recognized by Navratilova, has spilled over on several occasions, labeling him a hot-head. He relies on his own interpretation of the bouncing racquets and balls pummeled toward the stars as something he'll have to work on. Roger Federer started his career with the same propensity. Perhaps Ryan can learn from the winner of 16 major titles.
Harrison is one of 11 teenagers in the main draws. Madison Keys, the youngest teen and player in New York, had much better luck today than Harrison in her debut at the U. S. Open. She defeated the oldest woman in the draw, Jill Craybas, 62 64.
Keys earned her wild card entry when she won the U. S. Open Wild Card Playoffs held in College Park, Maryland, last week. She had been scheduled to play in the Qualifications Tournament in Flushing Meadow as a wild card, but knew if she did well at the Playoffs she could have a week off and return to Boca Raton, her home, for some need rest.
"I kind of decided that I didn't want to go to New York to play qualifying," Keys said, as reported in a press release from the USTA. "I just focused on staying in the match."
Madison's concentration helped push her past the one seed Beatrice Capra in that competition. Capra won last year's playoffs.
Keys concentration was pivotal to her success today, too. Up 4-1 in the second set, she seemed to take a mental break and let Craybas back into the match. However, and just in time, the 16-year-old woke up, striking forceful forehands to punctuate her victory.
Madison's most memorable match, so far? She played during an earthquake in Costa Rica. Last week's earth-rocker didn't quite reach Keys at her southern Florida home or her fans might begin to think she has a link to a weather related metaphysical alliance.
On the other side of the age spectrum, Bobby Reynolds at 29 is the oldest wildcard in the men's draw. He too won last week in College Park, securing his spot and chances for improvement in Flushing Meadows. This is Reynolds eighth appearance at the U. S. Open. His highest ranking on the ATP tour, since turning pro in 2003, was 63. He has never made it past the third round of any major. However, Reynolds and his buddies from the Washington Kastles clinched its second consecutive victory on the World Team Tennis tour in July. Reynolds was the spark that fired up that team.
Bobby plays David Nalbandian in their first round. The Argentine is well know for his brilliant tennis and wins over top-five players such as Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal. But if there ever was a moment to take the wheel, this is it. Nalbandian's hip surgery has slowed down the gifted man and left him flat over the summer hard court tournaments. Perhaps Reynolds can do as much damage against Nalbandian as he and his team did on the WTT circuit.
There are more youngsters to be watched: Jack Sock, the 2010 U. S. Open Junior Champion; Steve Johnson, the NCAA singles champ; Laura Robson of Great Britain who scored a first-round win over Ayumi Morita today.
Heather Watson, the 2010 U. S. Open Junior Singles Champion and teenager, made a doozy of a Grand Slam debut today on Arthur Ashe Stadium nearly upsetting Maria Sharapova the #3 seed. Watson took the first set and came from behind in the next two sets, sending signals to fans that history was in the making. However, Sharapova's greatest asset, her tenacity, pulled her through the match: 36 75 63.