Tennis

Harrison bros. pull off big upset

Mike & Bob Bryan
Will Ryan and Christian Harrison ever rival the Bryans?
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Richard Evans

Richard Evans has covered tennis since the 1960s, reporting on more than 150 Grand Slams. He is author of 15 books, including the official history of the Davis Cup and the unofficial history of the modern game in "Open Tennis." Follow him on Twitter.

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NEW YORK

While Andy Roddick was giving a young American called Rhyne Williams the experience of a lifetime at Arthur Ashe Stadium on Tuesday, a mighty roar went up over on Court 15 to signify a dramatic and remarkable victory for a new American doubles team that is determined to follow in the footsteps of the Bryan brothers.

Ryan and Christian Harrison are not twins but the Louisiana-born brothers might as well be, so close are they in thought, attitude and ambition. Ryan, 20, and Christian, 18, pulled off a great first-round win by 7-6(3), 2-6, 7-6(9) over the world’s fourth-ranked Polish team, Mariusz Fyrstenberg and Marcin Matkowski, who were finalists here last year.

Apart from a Challenger event in Sarasota last year, this was the first pro match the Harrisons had played as a team but, they did not need to work out how each other played.

“We’ve been playing since we were six and seven,” said Ryan, who has already made his mark in singles on the ATP Tour. “We’re both hugely motivated. Right from the start no one could tell us we weren’t going to make it on the pro tour. If they did it would ruin our day. We were determined never to let anyone outwork us. We knew we had the athletic ability and finally getting to play at the US Open together was just so much fun.”

Pretty effective fun, too, because they survived a rousing third-set tiebreak, finally grabbing it 9-7 as the powerful Poles missed a couple of crucial first serves.

“We were just trying to keep them off balance with our returns,” said Christian, a slightly smaller and younger looking version of Ryan. “Our energy level was very high in the breaker and I think that really helped with the crowd going nuts and everything. Ryan said to me ‘Let’s get pumped up,’ and we did and the momentum just carried us through.”

Ryan agreed that the sibling effect worked for them.

“There’s a certain advantage with being able to play with your brother,” he said. “Like with poaching – if I make a bad move I know he realizes I am just trying to be aggressive and won’t get mad.”

The older Harrison is known as one of the most focused and hard-working players on tour but it seems that Christian challenges him in that respect.

“For me, Christian’s is one of the most self-motivated people I know,” said Ryan. “I’m going out to practice and he’s already there. I’m having dinner and he’s calling saying he’s still on court. It’s always been that way.”

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They would have to reach the semifinals here to have any chance of playing Mike and Bob Bryan and that is looking too far ahead at this stage. However, duels with one of the most successful doubles teams of all time are certain to happen sometime in the future and that will throw a welcome spotlight on an aspect of the game that tends to get too little attention.

On Tuesday, another American was under the spotlight.

Rhyne Williams has never had as much attention in his life as he did when he faced Roddick and, despite losing 6-3, 6-4, 6-4 admitted that he had “a blast, just an awesome experience.”

Williams, growing up at the Bollettieri Academy which his grandfather, Mike de Palmer Sr., co-founded with the legendary Nick, has idolized Roddick since the age of 9 and, being of similar build, has patterned his style of play on the former US Open champion, relying on a big serve and heavy forehand.

“I think I did OK,” said the 21-year-old who now trains at the USTA headquarters in Boca Raton, Fla., “but the match taught me that I have to get quicker and a lot stronger physically.”

Roddick agreed.

“He has a good base,” he said. “He can create something. If you can win free points off your serve it is a good start. But he’s got to get a little bit quicker. I have dealt with an average backhand for many years and have had to kind of learn to get around it a little bit and become a better mover later on in my career.”

Sam Querrey joined Roddick in Round 2 after recovering well from the loss of the first set against Taipei’s talented Yen-Hsun Lu, who was a Wimbledon quarterfinalist in 2010. Querrey, who is still rebuilding his game after injury, came through 6-7, 6-4, 6-4, 7-5.

Milos Raonic, the powerful young Canadian who has not done himself justice at the Grand Slam level so far, nearly lost the chance of doing so here when Colombian Santiago Giraldo led by two sets to one and a break in the fourth. Batches of double faults lay at the core of the big server’s problems because Raonic normally relies on his massive delivery to let him take control of the match.

Roanic eventually broke back in the nick of time midway through the fourth set by pressuring Giraldo with some good, aggressive volleying as he took early balls and went in. In the end, he was able to come through 6-3, 4-6, 3-6, 6-4, 6-4 after a three and a half hour battle on Court 11.

“I could feel he was getting a little impatient and a little bit tired by that stage,” said Raonic.

He was relieved to have survived.

“There was just a lot of basic stuff I wasn’t doing,” said Raonic, who will have to match his serve against another big hitter in that department when he plays the tall Frenchman Paul-Henri Mathieu in the next round.

“I don’t think I have struggled with my serve that much for a long, long time. I double faulted consistently a couple of times in a row and that made my job a lot more difficult.”

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