What’s the Future Hold for Ryan Harrison?

by Sean Randall | July 26th, 2011, 5:28 pm

If you haven’t been introduced to Ryan Harrison, not to worry. It will happen because for the next 5-6 years you are going to get a steady diet of Harrison, especially for those of you in the U.S.

The heavily hyped Harrison is among a handful of bright, young stars who have invaded the ATP circuit this season – Milos Raonic, Grigor Dimitrov, Bernard Tomic and Ricardis Berankis being the others.

And here in the U.S., where we are always searching for the “Next Big Thing”, Harrison is it. He’s our future. In fact, he’s the only teen– male or female – right now with legitimate Grand Slam winning potential in years to come.

Of course a year ago Harrison was hardly a blip on the tennis radar, but he’s since put together some fine performances, beating Ivan Ljubicic at the US Open, edging Roanic at Indian Wells, getting the skin of top guys like Roger Federer and Robin Soderling and after reaching the his first career ATP semifinal in Atlanta last week he’s finally into the Top 100 at No. 94.

He may be green but he’s no pushover.

Harrison grew up in Shreveport, Louisiana, taking up tennis at the early age of two under the guidance of his father, Pat, who played some pro tennis himself – mostly toiling in the Challengers. As the story goes, Pat even beat Ryan in the finals of a local Shreveport city tournament when his son was just 11. Talk about ruthless!

In 2008, Nick Bollettieri took the Ryan and now 17-year-old brother Christian in at Bradenton and soon thereafter Ryan turned pro at the tender age of 15.

Three years later Harrison finds himself under the microscope as the heir apparent to Andy Roddick, Pete Sampras, Andre Agassi, John McEnroe and other American greats. A burden he sounds comfortable with.

“It’s an honor to be mentioned in the same name and sentence as the guys that I have been before,” Harrison said in March at Indian Wells. “I’m doing everything I can to work hard and to put myself in the right positions to come through and make it there.”

So what makes Harrison such an exciting prodigy? He’s only 19 but the kid already packs a pretty diverse game. I think of him as a junior Lleyton Hewitt, just in a bigger frame with a little more power and some added pop.

Like Hewitt, Harrison can play back, front, offense, defense and he’s not afraid to rush the net, even off return of serve – ask Roger Federer – and serve-and-volley. When you watch him play the instincts and court sense are clearly there.

And Ryan is a fighter. Like Hewitt (or Jimmy Connors) he’s a cocky one at that bringing attitude, intelligence and a serious temper to the court at the same time. Those traits are tough to teach and, for better or for worse, Harrison’s already got ‘em.

“I feel like I can compete as well as anybody. A lot of guys have a breaking point,” Harrison said. “I never have ever reached a point in a match where I just said – like I was talking about with him – where I said, Forget it, I don’t care. That’s something that I’ve literally never had happen to me. I think that’s a huge asset for me.”

He’s also got a decent, well-rounded game suitable for all surfaces. His best shots are his serve and forehand, but he hits his backhand well enough and his net skills are probably the best of anyone under 23 right now.

Fededer, after beating him 7-6, 6-3 at Indian Wells this year, had glowing things to say. “On defense he did well. Offense he’s got a lot of potential, as well,” Federer said. “He’s got a wonderful serve. That’s going to allow him to control sort of 50% of the match. Then it’s the rest. How fit is he? I mean, he put his heart in there in every match, and I guess he’s a good practice player, too, which is obviously a key at that age right now, because that’s the age I struggled with in practice really, to get myself motivated for practice sessions. I don’t think he’s the kind of guy who has issues with that.”

And he’s smart – like a sponge smart, grounded and motivated.

“I love talking about tennis,” Harrison said. “I love trying to learn as much as I can. I feel like the more you learn and the more you have your ears and eyes opened to learn new stuff, the quicker things are going to happen. You’re going to get to a higher level quicker.

“I certainly believe in myself as much as anyone can believe in themselves. I have complete intentions of winning Grand Slams and being No. 1 in the world and hopefully being a Davis Cup leader. I mean, that’s what I want to do with my career.”

Complete intentions of winning Majors? Did I mention he’s cocky?

What Harrison lacks most he can learn in time, and that’s experience. He’ll also get quicker, stronger and fitter, he’ll get more mature, too, and hopefully, for his sake, he’ll learn how to finish out matches better (recall that US Open match with Stakhovsky, Ryan I’ve noticed does struggle a little closing matches).

But will Harrison become as decorated on a tennis court as Hewitt or even Roddick? I’m not so sure.

Harrison, though, will have all the benefits of being a top American – likely the top American – playing on the tennis tour: Lots of USTA money, plenty of stateside tournaments (wildcards if needed), coaching access and preferential match courts/schedules. Plus, abroad he’ll always that significant American support.

Says Roddick, who has mentored Ryan, “For him it’s not so much how he plays. He likes the big stage. He plays well at some bigger events. For him, he’s going to have to take care of business in some minor league events so he is there full-time. I told him, I said, You make a career of — you make highlights playing above yourself playing good players, but you make a career winning the majority of matches you’re supposed to win. I think once he starts doing that, you’ll see him rise up pretty quickly.”

As for that ranking rise, having seen Ryan play just a handful of times, it’s tough to speculate but I see no reason he can’t crack the Top 10 by the end of 2013, and later break the Top 5. (James Blake broke the Top 5!)

Is he future No. 1 type of player? I’m not sold yet. But I think he’ll at least get to a Slam final or two, and maybe bag a few of them. That’s very plausible.

For me, I still don’t see that one killer shot and fact is, to get to No. 1 you really have to be the best in at least one discipline, and right now I’m not sure what Harrison will offer. Ryan doesn’t have “Del Potro” power, nor a Roddick nuclear serve nor he isn’t a freak like Nadal, so he’s really going to have to work hard the next 2-3 years to get there. But he seems to have a good head and the desire and talent are there to be tapped. It just takes time for everything to come together. And when it all does it should be a beauty to watch.

Later today, Harrison will continue his climb up the rankings by challenging the 21-year-old Berankis in L.A. in what could likely be a future rivalry of Top 10 guys.

Dimitrov, who I’ll preview here later in the week, is also in action tonight against Tommy Haas.

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22 Comments for What’s the Future Hold for Ryan Harrison?

jane Says:

How tall is he? Will have to look that up. Will have to try to watch more of his matches, I missed the one versus Fed at (I think) IW this year.

jane Says:

Don’t know where to comment on LA but Gulbis won a match!! OMG!

jane Says:

Quite a match with Berankis by the looks of it, but it looks like Ryan will prevail. Also I would think Dimitrov should be able to beat Haas.

Tennis Vagabond Says:

Roddick’s comment holds a lot of truth. For a guy who has been challenging good players this year, his rise up the rankings has been quite slow- compare Raonic who has rocketed into the top 30 despite injury setbacks. So apparently when I’m not seeing him in the news its because he’s losing to other low ranked players in small tournaments. That’s no good.
So he needs to find consistency, but definitely he looked great in his marquee matches this year. I do think Raonic will stay ahead of him though! As for Dmitrov and Berankis— who? I’ll take Somdev Devvarman and Tomas Bellucci I think.
There’s still a very young DelPotro to follow the Nadal/Nole generation!

Kimberly Says:

Serena takes set 1 6-0

jane Says:

^ and set 2. But I don’t know her opponent.

Eric Says:

TV, Raonic’s rise up the rankings shows that he happened to strike (and get lucky, let’s tell it like it is) at the AO, a slam, worth a lot of points. When you’re as far outside the gilded upper reaches of the rankings as he was on Jan 1, 180 points for making a fourth round at a slam makes a huge difference – especially when you back it up by winning an ATP title, as he did at the SAP Open shortly after the AO.

But since then, what’s Raonic done? He put in another great show at Memphis and a decent show at Halle, and one or two unimpressive runs at Indian Wells and such, and a whole bunch of nothing at the other 5-6 tournaments I can think of. Better than Harrison, maybe, but Harrison won their only (?) match. It’s also worth keeping in mind that Milos is a year and a half older. More consistent, though? Not really…

Skeezerweezer Says:


Thanks for the nice write up and research on Ryan. Good stuff. Lets not forget how young he is also, hope he can represent America well.

Finally moving on from “Photo drama” and back to discussing the game of T e n n i s. Yahoo! Bring on the summer circuit.

dari Says:

Double bagel for serena is an excellent start for climbing back up the rankings.
I wonder what the highest ranking possible she can achieve before the USO starts. Could she be seeded if she sweeps through these lead up tourneys?

Tennis Vagabond Says:

Eric, you said it yourself- he backed up his AO result by winning a tournament and made another final, barely losing to top tenner Roddick. During that time he beat Youzhny, Verdasco x 2, Fish and others I might be forgetting about.
Even his great AO result is less than 20% of his points- he got more points from San Jose and Memphis.
The AO bumped him from 150s to top 100. Moving from top 100 to top 30 has been post AO results. So that’s 3 great tourneys this year, plus R16 at Monte Carlo, Semis at Estoril (both on clay).
Harrison started the year very close to Raonic- in the 170s. He has still barely broken the top 100. His best result has been R16 at Indian wells, and most of his points come from challengers. In other words, Harrison’s BEST tourney was equivalent to Raonic’s fourth or fifth best.
I don’t see how you can argue Raonic’s are less impressive or consistent results than Harrison’s!

jane Says:

Wow, those are amazing records: no doubt about it. You can’t argue with those numbers and what Federer has achieved. He is one of the best indeed.

Brando Says:

Records are there to be broken, and until federer’s are broken- especially the 16 slams- then he is the undisputed numero uno in tennis history. As for the coming hardcourt season I cannot wait either. I actually think nadal, federer, Murray and del potro have a better against djokovic now than earlier in the season

sheila Says:

re: ryan harrison:”heavily hyped” says it all. soderling, berdych also were heavily hyped & cannot win nadal or djokovic in grand slams (soderling 1 nadal @ fo, but that was all of once) i think lots of these up & comers r being hyped but until ic them being “consistent” as well as winning the likes of a nadal, or djokovic then its all hype 2me. i dont include federer because hes almost 30 so really not of same generation of players.

skeezerweezer Says:


Thanks for posting that! ;)

Eric Says:

TV, I never said that Raonic’s results were less impressive than Harrison – rather the opposite is the case, clearly. But what I did say, and stand by, is that if we are going to impugn Harrison’s alleged inconsistency compared to Raonic, it would be wise to consider whether Raonic has actually been consistent. And he has not.

(Nor has he turned out to be the greatest thing since sliced bread – his results since the SAP Open have been pretty average for a top 40 player. Obviously, he is still young and has much, much time to grow and improve, but we should extend the same courtesy to Harrison, who is some 19 months younger.)

tinica Says:

Harrison has great intensity on the court – and I like that he seems not to be intimidated by top players. It’s good to have that strutting, winning attitude while working his way up.

There was a time when nobody imagined Borg’s RG and W records would be broken – and more recently a time when the Sampras slam trophy count was unbreakable, too.

But this is about the “Next Big Thing” – not the “Same Old Thing”

rotini Says:

I’m wondering at the unpleasant persistence of writers in refering to Nadal as ‘freak’. This is a human being who has achieved excellence in his sport through hard work and gutsy determination, whiilst always remaining respectful of his opponents, tournament officials, etc. I’m assuming that this writer is American, and thus not adept at articulating his thoughts in a respectful way.
Personally, I consider as freaks those players with a winning game, who have never learned how to behave in public in a manner which would reflect favorably upon their maturity and professionalism. The list is long.

Andrew Miller Says:

Harrison’s got an incredible attitude. Unfortunately, he does not have an incredible game. He has a very good volley. He has great toughness. He runs down every ball. But he has zero weapons – his serve is good, but at his age Roddick’s serve was super-sonic (Harrison will not have Roddick’s serve, ever). His forehand is okay but it has a hitch – again, Roddick. The backhand is a rally shot – think Ginepri. And in comparison with Blake: Blake looked like he should be a top ten player and then became one. Harrison could be there – sure I guess he could be a slam contender and maybe win some, but let’s be honest here: he’s nowhere near as good as Roddick and Blake were, and his groundstrokes are not at the level of Mardy Fish. He’s a Ginepri with a good attitude and never say attitude – it will do him well and he will do great with it.

But he’s not even close to David Ferrer’s talent level – let alone Nadal. Harrison does not have the speed of a Blake, the groundstrokes of an Agassi, or the serve of a Roddick – all potent weapons. He has an excellent volley and a good serve. An excellent volley and a good serve makes you Rostagno, a player I loved to watch play. Stefan Edberg not only had a great serve and an amazing volley, but he also had a great backhand and incredible speed and footwork.

It’s hard to look at Harrison right now and say “this guy is a slam winner”. Look at U.S. champs: Chang – sheer speed, probably the fastest guy on tour; Courier – nearly as fast as chang, a wicked forehand, excellent serve; Agassi, the world’s best groundstrokes off both wings, excellent footwork, an outstanding series of coaches; Sampras – one of the mentally toughest players in history, best serve of all time, excellent groundstrokes, 2nd best volley behind Edberg, heck of an overhead smash, fast as heck!!!

Ryan Harrison, really? Maybe he’s strong in the mold of Nadal, but the groundstrokes are not even close on that one. Yeah I just find it hard to say this. I think the next great american player is probably someone else – Harrison will march up the rankings and another yank will leapfrog him – maybe a Jack Sock or someone else, who knows.

Fred Says:

Harrison does NOT have a backhand
he has NO variety
does NOT play well on all surfaces
his lateral movement is suspect

Harrison for someone who has done NOTHING;NADA;ZERO;ZIP;ZILCH in the slam sure is hyped but off course the Americans are desperate

Harrison just acted like a total THUG just now in his match against Lu by throwing his stick from one side of the court to the other

he is one smug punk

and as expected Gimelstob has started with his adoration saying that this punk will be a “big time player”

I cannot wait until the big dogs fly in town to send his punk ass straight and back to the Challengers where this punk belongs and most of all so that I can stop hearing from Mardy Fish’s weight loss!

margot Says:

rotini @9.47, I didn’t like that comment about Rafa either, quite rude, but typical journalistic shorthand.

Jack Says:

Andrew miller is a genius. Wow. Great analysis by him. Harrison has zero weapons. Just riding his next big thing as no body else at the moment.

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