Ryan Harrison: A lesson in resilience

Published by Leigh Rogers

Ryan Harrison is back delivering results on the ATP. Photo: Getty Images
When Ryan Harrison burst into the world’s tennis spotlight with his first ATP World Tour match win at 15, many highs were predicted to follow. Now after a challenging decade, he is at last delivering results.

Ryan Harrison exudes many x-factor qualities. He has an explosive serve, powerful forehand and an intense, engaging personality – and the 24-year-old American is now proving resilience might be his greatest trait.

After becoming an Olympian at 20, reaching a then career-high rank of No.43 in 2012 and earning a reputation as one of the game’s most promising talents, last year Harrison’s career was at a crossroad. He’d spent two years outside the top 100, falling to a low of No.168 in February.

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“When you’re in a negative place, and you’re not playing well, everyone is treating you like you’ve come and gone, you don’t really have much of a voice to say ‘I can still do this’,” he admitted.

A first round qualifying loss at Wimbledon became a catalyst for the increasingly-frustrated Harrison to re-evaluate his career.

“For me I had to hit rock bottom and decide if I even wanted to continue playing,” he revealed.

“It wasn’t just because I was losing, but that I was coming off the court after losing and feeling like I hadn’t got any better. With each match and tournament I wasn’t getting closer to my dream, if anything I was getting further away. The negative feeling was so overwhelming that I felt like I was underachieving every time I stepped on the court. That’s not a good feeling.”

Harrison had become his own worst enemy, admitting the cause of his plateauing career was “more mental than physical”.

“When everything is new you’re not feeling a whole lot of pressure, you’re just swinging out and playing your game, but when I hit that first setback… I panicked and it led to a lack of emotional control,” he reflected.

“To me the biggest thing is learning to accept you’re not where you want to be, but that you can get there. Once you have a hard and focused mindset, setbacks don’t feel like the end of the world. You’re building toward something better.”

Something better soon followed – a career-best Grand Slam performance at the 2016 US Open. Harrison qualified then stunned No.5 seed Milos Raonic in the second round, only the second top 10 win of his career.

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“It’s exciting to have a big win like this at a Slam,” he said. “Right now I feel like I’m in a good emotional state where I’m competing really well.” After reaching his first Grand Slam third round in his 20th main draw appearance, Harrison was back in the world’s top 100 by season-end.

Harrison’s momentum continued early in 2017, building an 11-match winning streak through February as he won an ATP Challenger title in Dallas then snared his long-awaited first ATP World Tour title in Memphis.

“It feels amazing. Memphis was the club I first came to, to watch a pro event. It was the closest club to my hometown that hosted an event. It just feels surreal to win here,” Harrison said.

He didn’t lose a set in his winning run and saved all 12 break points he faced in the Memphis final against Georgian Nikoloz Basilashvili. It was a dominant and mentally strong performance that didn’t go unnoticed, with former champions such as Andy Roddick, Todd Woodbridge, Boris Becker and Tracy Austin all reaching out to congratulate him.

“I didn’t know if I was ever going to get there,” Harrison admitted of his ATP title breakthrough. The result propelled Harrison’s ranking back to No.43, equalling the career-high he had set five years earlier. It is a position he appreciates a lot more.

“I came on the scene early and it’s a good thing now, considering how persistent and resilient I am. I’ve gone through a lot in my life with the spotlight on it,” he said.

“It was really an interesting way to grow up with people expecting a lot of you and then not expecting you to be there. (But now) I feel I can achieve my dreams again.”

Yet Harrison is not forgetting the valuable lessons his trying journey has taught him. He’s vowing to stay grounded, consistent with the mature and positive mindset that has sparked his revival.

“I’m not putting a whole lot of pressure on myself now,” he said after his Memphis title win. “My goal for the year is the same as it has been since I started the year, I want to feel like every single week that I left it all out there and got better. Results are going to come and go – and I hope they keep coming – but either way I’ll be improving.”

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