Harrison the luckiest of losers
PARIS -- When his racket wound up in a tree after a third-round qualifying loss to Javier Marti of Spain, Ryan Harrison wasn't thinking about the main draw of the French Open.
The 19-year-old from Bradenton, Fla., never imagined himself playing on Court Suzanne Lenglen against world No. 5 Robin Soderling -- and banking a cool 15,000 Euros (about $21,000).
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Happily, tennis has the capacity to surprise us every day. Somehow, despite being the sixth and final name to be pulled from the hat of third-round qualifying losers, Harrison was into the main draw after Benjamin Becker withdrew with a sore left elbow, the luckiest of losers.
When Harrison got out there, he looked like a guy who had just walked into the wrong party. The first set was over in 20 minutes and Soderling looked dominant. But Harrison rallied famously and took the second-set tiebreaker before losing 1-6, 7-6 (5), 3-6, 5-7.
All in all, it was a pretty good day for Americans, who supposedly can't play on this gritty red stuff.
Harrison wasn't the only threat to a top seed. John Isner took five-time French Open champion Rafael Nadal to the brink before losing in five sets. Sam Querrey finished strong and defeated Philipp Kohlschreiber 3-6, 6-1, 6-2, 6-4. Vania King pulled off the biggest upset, decking former French Open semifinalist and No. 22 seed Dominika Cibulkova 6-7 (0), 6-3, 6-2.
It almost happened for Harrison too.
Tennis, doing its part to be green, sometimes recycles its losers. When someone in the main draw of a Grand Slam pulls out with an injury once qualifying has begun -- this year's initial group included former Roland Garros champion Juan Carlos Ferrero, Andy Roddick and Tommy Robredo -- the tournament reaches past the 16 who won all three of their three qualifying matches. The names of the two-time winners who are still in town are drawn at random. So when Lleyton Hewitt decided his left ankle prevented him from playing effectively, Frenchman Marc Gicquel got the nod.
Believe it or not, six is not a big number for lucky losers. Last year's Wimbledon and the 2008 French Open each elevated seven lucky losers. The record? In 1973, when many players boycotted Wimbledon in Niki Pilic's squabble with the Yugoslavian Federation, an astonishing 50 qualifying losers (including 26 from the first round) made the main draw.
Overall, it was a financial win for Harrison. After his qualifying-loss outburst, he was fined for (1) obscenities, (2) bad behavior on the court and (3) shattering his racket. The total was 1,495 Euros, or about $2,100, so he's still some $19,000 ahead of the game.
Here are four other things, beyond the fact that the Americans were underrated (and underappreciated) coming into Roland Garros, that we absolutely know we think:
Kim Clijsters has a legitimate shot at this title: She hadn't played for more than a month, but her tightly taped right ankle seemed to hold up fine in a 6-2, 6-3 first-round victory over Anastasiya Yakimova. Clijsters, looking a bit thinner than when we last saw her, moved reasonably well and was hitting her trademark groundstroke bombs. She looks like one of the favorites, along with Caroline Wozniacki, Maria Sharapova, Victoria Azarenka, Samantha Stosur and Petra Kvitova.
OK, this is starting to get a little scary: Ana Ivanovic couldn't stop crying during her press conference following an inexplicable first-round loss. In retrospect, it's almost hard to explain how she won the title here at Roland Garros in 2008. Ivanovic fell to Johanna Larsson of Sweden, 7-6 (3), 0-6, 6-2. Afterward, she was asked the difference between the 2008 champion and the present player. "I wish I knew," she said, sadly. "I try to look back and see what I've done then and do the same things. Yeah, I'm just trying to work it out."
La vache parait bien: Maria Sharapova, who once likened her play on clay to a cow on ice, seems to have found her footing at Roland Garros. She smoked Mirjana Lucic 6-3, 6-0 in all of 56 minutes. Sharapova, who did not face a break point, won 56 of 80 points.
Virginie Razzano is made of stern stuff: The Frenchwoman played her first-round match with a heavy heart after the death of her fiancé Stephane Vidal of a brain tumor eight days earlier. Razzano lost to Jarmila Gajdosova 6-3, 6-1 on Court Philippe Chatrier. "Today it's a big pain on me," she explained. "I don't have a word for to explain. This decision, it's from my fiancé, Stephane. He would like to try for me to continue my life. For him it's energy, and to play here homage for him, and for me, too, it's maybe to try to have -- continue to fight on court."
Greg Garber is a senior writer for ESPN.com.
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