Bryan Armen Graham
Sunday September 5th, 2010

Ryan Harrison

Ryan Harrison (above) showed maturity beyond his years against Sergiy Stakhovsky, but squandered three match points in a fifth-set tiebreaker. (AP)

I feel a bit icky just thinking this, much less writing it. So keep this between us, please. But I’ve been thinking about Ryan Harrison today and the indelicate topic of money. You know they hold promotions whereby a lucky fan has a chance to hit a million dollar shot? As I see it, Ryan Harrison had that chance the other day. And, sadly, he missed it.

You’ll recall that on Friday, Harrison, the 18-year-old American, played a wonderful second-round match against Sergiy Stakhovsky, covering the court like a tarp, showing maturity that betrayed his true age. The Grandstand was rocking. ESPN cut in live. The hype machine was already revving. With Andy Roddick crashing out the night before, American tennis fans were particularly eager for a new prospect.

In a fifth-set tiebreaker, Harrison held three match points. Play with this out with me. Harrison converts one of them and he would have played today, on national weekend television, against Feliciano Lopez. You can bet the match would have been on Arthur Ashe Stadium. That’s a winnable match, and had he prevailed, Harrison would have faced Nadal in a likely night session. But even if Harrison loses, he would have spent a few hours today on weekend CBS, showing off his appealing looks, appealing game and appealing personality. Conceivably, he might have picked up enough ranking points to gain automatic entry to some fall ATP events which, held as they are on fast indoor courts, would have enabled him to keep climbing.

I asked a longtime tennis rainmaker to assess my assertion that Harrison could have come out of this event an extra million dollars to the good. “Easy,” he quickly shot back, and then admitted he’d had the same thought.

We know, of course, how this played out. Harrison failed to convert the match points. He blinked and, in a flash, he’d lost the match. One nice thing about tennis: he’ll have plenty of opportunity to build on this breakthrough, learn from his mistakes, move on, and make back whatever money he left on the table. And one nice thing about being 18: you tend not to dwell on missed opportunities, financial or otherwise. But one missed shot, one tiny hiccup can have huge consequences. When they call this a game of inches of inches, they’re not kidding.

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