Wednesday, August 5, 2015


The cruel irony of Ryan Harrison's first round (of the main draw) match against James Duckworth of Australia, is that he shouldn't have been there...for a lot of reasons.  First of all, he is, by most accounts (and with all due respect), a better player than James Duckworth - his strokes are more modern (tightly produced with better racquet head acceleration) and of the two of the, he should have gained direct entry into the main draw.  But two years of profligacy and fighting injuries has forced him to the path of greatest resistance, and since this is the toughest draw in the history of this tournament, direct entry into the main draw would have given him more of a fighting chance.

And for another thing, who could blame him for feeling hard done by a schedule that had him play 3 matches in 3 days, with the #2 seed sadistically waiting for him if he made it through this travail on the fourth day.  God rested more his first week.  It would have been one thing had he breezed through the matches along the way to his first main draw, but all three matches were taxing physically, particularly the first, and the second match, which nearly got away from him in the second (just like the first) was a test of concentration and will which he passed, but apparently not with flying colors.

The great thing about the Citi Open being a 500 on the ATP tour, is that there are a lot of points on the table, to say nothing of the money, and as such, they come from far and wide for their slice of the pie.  And because only one of the big 4 have made their way to DC this year, there are quite a few players in the second tier, who would fancy their chances as maximizing their results this year, and giving themselves the best opportunity to improve their seeding at the US Open.  The combination of the two conditions have produced a brilliant star on the DC horizon - it burns bright, but dims quickly as a number of players with a built in following in DC are sacrificed at the altar of the game's praetorian guard.

Take the case of Donald Young - a semi-finalist a year ago, in 2015 he gained directly entry into the main draw (no small feat) but his reward was playing one of the purest ball-strikers, and most versatile and athletic players, in Tommy Haas.  In that test, he receiving a passing grade, using spin and improved depth off of both wings (but particularly the forehand) to bully his older rival into a number of unforced errors, and playing further behind the baseline than his optimal court positioning would dictate.  There was much improvement in his concentration as well - after breaking Haas's serve at the first time of asking, he gave he break right back.  But the expected lapse in focus was nowhere to be found, as Young broke back a second time, and then consolidated with solid play.

Haas raised the level of his game in the second, threatening to break Young with an elongated game or multiple deuces - for several deuce points, Haas attacked with an inside out forehand hit relatively flat into the backhand, a great tactical option against a player who is technically asymmetrical.  But Young responded in the ad court by pushing Haas further and further into his backhand corner, first with a well angled wide serve (struck from the middle of the baseline and giving him a better angle).  If the serve was returned (which it wasn't a number of times) he continued to push Haas wide in the point until an error was elicited.

But Haas is resilient, and though he failed to get the job done in his first return game, he was able to do it in the second, after holding, cosolidated the hold, and looked to be on his way to pushing the match into a third.  The plaintive wailing, and audible stream of consciousness which normally accompanies Young's dips in performance were there, but unlike on other occasions, they were replaced with a renewed commitment to pushing Haas with the one combination that was to his advantage - his forehand to Haas's backhand.  And despite a couple of occasions where Young's forehand landed short in the court, but carried to the baseline (the perfect combination for a player who hits as flat as Haas) Young was able to win 5 games in a row and take the second set 6-4.

But the Citi Open waits for no man, and Young was forced to return to the court the next day, this time against the easy power, and gliding Canadian, Vasek Pospisil.  Pospisil is, in many ways, very similar to his younger, better known compatriot, Milos Raonic.  Having reached the final here last year, it would actually come as a surprise if he did the same here this year.  But against Young, having overcome a strong challenge from Haas the night before, it was too much to ask of him to do the same with less than 24 hours rest, and in the hottest part of the day.  Young can assume some measure of progress by winning his first tour level main draw match in 9 tournaments.  That's the kind of streak that if it isn't snapped before long, he'll wind up in the qualifiers again shortly.

Of the two erstwhile Americans, I would argue that Harrison had the better week.  Young's loss in his second match may have had some measure of fatigue involved, but in Harrison's case, I have no doubt that had his schedule been more forgiving, he would have been less generous to James Duckworth (with all due respect to the Australian).  There have always been questions about the temperment of these two, of whom so much has been expected for so long, but I would argue that the technical tool kit of Harrison is superior to Young's and as such, despite his lower ranking, I would guess he will have the better summer.

Young has done much to improve his fitness and physique - the grotesque asymmetry of his left tricep is a testament to the work he has put in to be able to compete physically with and ever increasing athletic requirement in the game.  But both Young and Harrison have holes to fill in their technique - namely, I feel both would do well to improve the depth and flatten the trajectory of more forehands, as both have a tendency to leave their's too short on rally shots that don't quite hit the sweet spot.  Haas, for example, when he mishits, tends to have more length on them, but when Young and Harrison do the same, they are rife for the taking.  I also feel that Young does a better job of getting to his optimal mix of forehands and backhands - against Haas the distribution was 65% forehands to 35% backhands, and for his game, I believe that it optimal.  Harrison would do well to find a way to tip the balance in favor of his best shot, even though his is the better backhand.

Either way, both at the Citi Open, and on the ATP tour, there is no rest for the weary...they both have a little time to work on those things, but they'll have to do it quickly before the Rogers Cup.

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