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Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Harrison's Loss Due to Control not Skill

Ryan Harrison lost in a tough first round matchup with #27 seed Marin Cilic. Harrison lost this match in straight sets, however, he served for two of the three sets. Harrison proved, as he has all summer, that he has the game to compete with the big guns on the ATP tour.

Game is not the reason Harrison lost in the first round of the 2011 US Open. Not even close. It was Harrison's inability to manage situations and his emotions effectively at crucial times. I cannot know for sure what Ryan was thinking on the court, but it seemed he got a little tight when serving it out. Then, when Cilic broke him he became frustrated, did not let go of these mistakes, and began expressing his displeasure. This is when the racket throwing and ball kicking barrage began.

These kinds of outbursts were more common in the days of Nastase, McEnroe, and Connors. The tennis community no longer is as supportive of the emotional player that exhibits his anger. Today players are trained from the time they are kids to contain their emotions and avoid these outbursts. I believe that children should not throw rackets, but as a byproduct of this socialization young adults are not very effective at using their anger and frustration to help them perform like McEnroe did so well.

On Monday Harrison has been unable to contain the outbursts. The fans at Louis Armstrong Stadium booed Harrison at the end of the match which has to be like putting salt on the wound. I think the booing was just as unsportsmanlike as Harrison's racket throwing by the way. It is not like Harrison's dogging it. In fact it is the complete opposite, he wants to win so badly that he has a hard time dealing with mistakes and losing sets when he is serving for it. I would imagine many of the tennis players in the crowd have had negative responses at times as well on the court. I agree with Justin Gimelstob, Harrison's young give him a break. And, he does need to learn from this match so it does not happen again.

Managing emotions is absolutely critical to winning at any level of tennis. However, for Harrison, who is seen as the next great American male player, the spotlight is shining brightly and the expectations can be a burden. This makes it all the more difficult. When a player is unable to positively and productively respond to the situation and how he or she is feeling the result is an emotional rollercoaster. Up after a winner and down in the doldrums after a break. And, as a result the player is likely to be inconsistent in their focus, decision-making, reactions, and ultimately performance. Further, when the pressure is on emotional players tend to play defensive and tentative because they do not want to lose the point.

In my opinion, this is how Harrison played against Cilic, up and down, making a lot of unforced errors, leaving opportunities on the table, being too negative, and playing too defensively in key moments (because he so badly did not want to lose). Unfortuantely, he was not able to get over his errors which certainly played a role in decisions like going for a drop shot in the tiebreak, losing the point, and from there it was a downhill slide until Cilic finished it off.

This is not a harsh criticism of Harrison. Most players struggle with their emotions and like all of us we are human and make mistakes. If like Federer Harrison can learn to manage his emotions effectively and hit out on his shots under pressure he can reach his potential. It is much easier to keep your racket firmly in your grip when you are executing under pressure! I am excited to see what Harrison will do as he learns to cope with the pressures of professional tennis.

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