US OPEN BUZZ: The Renaissance of Ryan Harrison, Bellis-imo! and More

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THE RENAISSANCE OF RYAN HARRISON: They had tangled before as juniors and more memorably at Indian Wells in 2011 when they were a pair of next-generation young pros marked for success. But when Ryan Harrison and Milos Raonic took the court at the Grandstand, their match seemed a tale of two careers: Raonic’s cool, cerebral, steady climb to the near-top, and Harrison’s bad luck draws and temperamental flameouts.

Harrison had won that 2011 match at Indian Wells, but Raonic has a No. 5 seeding and a Wimbledon final on his resume. Still, as the duo played a tight first set with Raonic squeezing out the tiebreak, the possibility of an upset loomed. Harrison – just ranked No. 120, had been playing some of the best tennis of his career this summer. Like his brother Christian, he came all the way through the qualifying tournament. Then, in the same day, he went to the other side of Queens to lead the San Diego Aviators to a championship in World TeamTennis.

In the second set, things began to tip Harrison’s way, as he found ways to pass and trip up Raonic at the net. He let a break lead slip but then rallied with inspired shot-making to take the second 7-5. In the third, the players traded breaks but Raonic began to show signs of wear and tear, faltering in the final two games. Racing through the fourth, Harrison soon was celebrating a 6-7, 7-5, 7-5, 6-1 victory.

Afterward, the thoughtful Harrison had reasons to reflect on his renaissance at the merry old age of 24. “It’s mental maturity, a little bit of stabilization with everything around me that is allowing me to play with a sense of calm and also with excitement,” he explained. “My personality is a very fiery one. I like to be really intense when I’m competing. Flirt with that line of getting so intense that it’s taking me away from what I am trying to accomplish out there…Right now I feel like I’m in a good emotional state, where I’m competing really well…I don’t need to do anything more than I’m capable of doing. I just need to do what I’m capable of and trust that that gives me my opportunities.”

Besides, with Harrison joining John Isner and Jack Sock in the third round – not to mention buoyed by Steve Johnson and Jared Donaldson‘s dramatic first-round wins – he’s part of an upswell of American momentum. Or as he put it, “I think the winning does become contagious.” His change has been noted by his peers. “He’s been playing with a lot more confidence,” noted veteran American John Isner. “You see him in the locker room and he’s just more confident.”

Winning will do that to a guy.

BELLIS-IMO! CICI BREAKS THROUGH AGAIN: In 2015, then-15-year-old CiCi Bellis of Atherton, California was the Cinderella story of the US Open, when she knocked out a top 10 player – Dominika Cibulkova – in her first-ever Grand Slam match. This year, CiCi has gone a step further, reaching the third round with a 2-6, 6-2, 6-2 victory over another recent Cinderella, French Open sensation Shelby Rogers.

She did it with a ground game that has a noteworthy sense of intent – you never get the feeling Bellis is aimlessly hitting the ball. As she sunk her teeth into the match and began winning some inspired points, a group of fans matched her enthusiasm with shouts from the stands. “They came out to first-round qualifying and have been to every single one of my matches since,” Bellis said when asked about the crew. “One of them messaged me on Instagram and asked for tickets, and so I got them into my box today. I guess we’re getting closer. They are a great group. Oh, my God. They call themselves Team CiCi, so it was fun…I think they’re from Rhode Island. I read that in one of their Instagram bios.”

Next round brings a much tougher competition for Bellis: she faces world No. 2 Angelique Kerber. But the 17-year-old – who notes that she’s already played both Serena and Venus in her young career – embraces the big stages and welcomes the challenge. We’ll be seeing more of her.


QUESTION OF THE DAY: To John Isner – “When you were starting out were you immediately serving big and knocking holes in the wall?”

RAISE TEACHER’S SALARIES: The father of Ernests Gulbis is one of the richest men in Latvia. So one reporter said to Latvian Anastasia Sevastova (who had just upset No. 3 Garbine Muguruza in the second round) that Latvian players are known for their wealthy parents, going on to ask her whether her mother, who watched her tonight, was as wealthy as Gulbis. “No,” said Sevastova, “my mom teaches English.”

THE WORLD ACCORDING TO MILOS: Milos Raonic may still not have fully broken through the Big Four (Novak,Nadal, Roger and Rafa) and he went down to Ryan Harrison today, but he remains one of the most thoughtful players in sports. In the latest installment of the Players Tribune’s “What the (Blank)” series, the calm, cool Canadian admits to suffering from vertigo, says he doesn’t listen to music before matches, and declares that he is the most underrated player in the world. Poking a little fun at his art connoisseur rep, he also draws a stick-figure self-portrait that’s “inspired by the great works of any 6-year-old.” After his first match in his favorite Slam city of New York, IT asked Raonic about his collector’s interest in contemporary art, and gave a shout out to three artists: Dan Colen, Jeff Elrod and Rashid Johnson.

JUST WONDERING: Is American Ryan Harrison the most underrated talker in tennis…Was Bernie Tomic‘s gross remark referring to private parts the most lewd comment by a tennis player that has ever been picked up by a microphone?

SOMETIMES THINGS JUST DON’T WORK OUT: Before the US Open, critics speculated that Olympic gold medalist Monica Puig would crash at the US Open. “I love to prove people wrong,” she responded on Twitter. But Puig didn’t silence the skeptics – she lost in the first round to Saisai Zheng.

FOR THE RECORD: First match on Louis Armstrong Stadium, August 29, 1978:  Bjorn Borg defeated Bob Hewitt 6-0, 6-2. First match on Arthur Ashe Stadium, August 25, 1997: Tamarine Tanasugarn defeated Chanda Rubin 6-4, 6-0. First match on new Grandstand, August 29, 2016: Caroline Wozniacki defeated Taylor Townsend 4-6, 6-3, 6-4.

MOST NORMAL ANSWER: After his 6-4, 6-2, 7-6 victory over Gilles Muller, Gael Monfils said his win was normal – “not too good, not too bad.”