Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Irish eyes are smiling: McGee rallies to stun Harrison

James McGee, a qualifier from Ireland, rallied from a 5-1
deficit in the third set to beat fourth-seeded Ryan Harrison.
Photo by Paul Bauman
   APTOS, Calif. – James McGee was toast.
   The 26-year-old Irish qualifier trailed fourth-seeded Ryan Harrison 5-1 in the third set today in the first round of the $100,000 Comerica Bank Challenger.
   No way was McGee, ranked No. 269 in the world, going to come back against the 21-year-old American, who was taking a rare break from the elite ATP World Tour.
   Granted, Harrison has dropped to No. 104 after reaching a career-high No. 43 just over one year ago. But only last week, he knocked off former world No. 1 Lleyton Hewitt, 32, in the first round at Washington, D.C., before losing to eventual champion and 2009 U.S. Open titlist Juan Martin del Potro. The previous week, Harrison advanced to the semifinals in Atlanta.
   Let's put the apparent mismatch this way. Even though Harrison is five years younger, he has earned 17 times as much career prize money as McGee: $1,309,175 to $77,003.
   But McGee somehow won six straight games to stun Harrison 6-3, 3-6, 7-5 at the Seascape Sports Club.
   "It was probably one of the biggest wins of my career, especially the way it was done," McGee said. "Coming back from 1-5 was nice."
   It was also one of the biggest upsets in the 26-year history of the Comerica Bank Challenger, which is notorious for them. No top seed has won the singles title.
   In a later matchup of American left-handers, former Stanford star Bradley Klahn defeated 2007 Comerica champion Donald Young 6-4, 6-4 to reach the quarterfinals for the second consecutive year.
   Klahn, the 2010 NCAA champion as a sophomore before undergoing surgery for a herniated disc in October 2011, is playing a one-hour drive south of Stanford. Young had edged third-seeded Steve Johnson, the defending champion, in the first round on Tuesday.
Harrison, 21, reached No. 43 in the world last
year and defeated former world No. 1 Lleyton
Hewitt last week. Photo by Paul Bauman

   The Harrison-McGee match had been suspended at one set apiece on Tuesday evening because the lights on Center Court did not meet USTA specifications. Tournament supervisor Mike Loo gave the players the option of continuing for about 30 minutes or playing a full set today. Harrison left it up to McGee, who chose the latter.
   Harrison's gesture wasn't necessarily as magnanimous as it might seem. For McGee, it was essentially a no-win situation. Continue, and Harrison had the momentum. Stop, and McGee had all night to contemplate a huge upset and get nervous.
   That's exactly what happened. Harrison came out firing and broke McGee's serve in the first game with a backhand passing shot down the line. Before McGee knew it, he was down 4-0. But then he loosened up and Harrison got tight.  
   "I started off the third set tentative," conceded McGee, who will play qualifier Farrukh Dustov of Uzbekistan on Thursday for a quarterfinal berth. "Ryan really took it to me in terms of his aggression, and I felt on the back foot all the time.
   "At 5-1, I hadn't given up, but I had gotten to a place where I said, 'It's sort of all or nothing now. You might as well just go for it. If I am to lose the match, lose it the right way.'
   "At 5-2 down, I was thinking, 'I've probably lost this match.' He's serving with new balls (which fly faster because the felt hasn't fluffed up yet), and he's got a huge serve. The biggest shift was a change in my mentality, going from tentative to more relaxed and going for it. I started going for winners and coming to the net."   
   Still, the match appeared to be headed to a decisive tiebreaker when Harrison served at 5-6, 40-15. But he lost the next four points, three after second serves, and the match. McGee ripped a return-of-serve backhand winner, Harrison hit an easy inside-out forehand wide and a conventional forehand long, and McGee ended matters by returning Harrison's second serve with a backhand passing shot down the line.
   Tom Gullikson, a lead national men's coach for the USTA, is working with Harrison for the first time this week. Gullikson, 61, has seen it all as a former top-five doubles player in the world, U.S. Davis Cup captain and U.S. Olympic men's coach in addition to his current role. But he was dumbfounded by Harrison's collapse.
   When asked what went wrong after Harrison led 4-0 in the third set, a subdued Gullikson said: "That's a very good question. You'll have to ask him. My view is he was playing very good tennis at the beginning of the third set. He had a very good warmup today, a good hit. He was ready to play and very eager to go out there and play a good set.
   "Obviously, he got off to a great start, up 4-0, up 5-1. Serving at 5-2, up two breaks, he should feel pretty confident. But in the 5-2 game, he played very tentative. He wasn't going for his shots, didn't get many first serves in, really lost the rhythm on his first serve, and the guy made some returns and some good shots. The  guy probably figured he was going to lose and started being more aggressive, and Ryan gave him too many short balls.
   "Same thing (in the) 5-4 game. He didn't get many first serves, the guy was playing solid and aggressive, and Ryan was just playing too tight. He just wasn't hitting his shots. It's disappointing, to say the least. ... This will not be on his career highlight reel, that's for sure."      
   After the players shook hands at the net, Harrison made a remark to McGee near umpire Marc Bell's chair that the winner politely declined to reveal.
   "It (wouldn't be) fair for either of us," said McGee, adding that it didn't bother him.
   McGee behaved impeccably throughout the match. But Harrison, who was not available for comment, was out of sorts from the start. His attitude seemed to be, "This tournament is beneath me."
   After a line call against Harrison in the second game of the first set on Tuesday, he loudly admonished Bell, "Do you realize the players have all been saying, 'Watch out for the line calls'? Second game ... "
    After losing a point for 0-40 on his serve in the first game of the second set, Harrison smashed his racket on the court and received a warning for racket abuse. He then calmed down, holding serve in that game, until McGee rallied on Wednesday. 
   At that stage, Harrison swore several times after points while the crowd cheered so Bell couldn't hear him. Late in the match, Harrison muttered, "This mother-----r can't play tennis to save his life."
   When a fan took her seat in between points, Harrison condescendingly told Bell: "You might not know this, but that's unprofessional. This is a professional tournament."
   Said Gullikson: "It's always hard to be in the major leagues and then come down a level. He played this event to get some good matches and get ready for the U.S. Open (in 2 1/2 weeks)."
   McGee graciously defended Harrison.  
   "He's intense, like me," McGee said. "A lot of players are very intense. He's a great competitor, a great fighter. If you had to describe him, you'd say he's got a lot of fire, maybe a bit too much fire at times.
   "I understand when guys might lose the head or do something they shouldn't because I've been there as well. Off the court, he's just a normal guy."
   Gullikson diplomatically said Harrison "has had a problem a little bit with his temper in the past. That's something that he needs to manage."
   There was also an upset in doubles as Maxime Authom and Olivier Rochus of Belgium beat top-seeded Purav Raja and Divij Sharan of India 6-4, 6-2 in the first round.
   Authom upset top-seeded Brian Baker in the first round of singles in last year's Comerica Bank Challenger. The 5-foot-5 (1.65-meter) Rochus, 32, won the 2004 French Open doubles title with countryman Xavier Malisse and the 1998 Wimbledon junior boys doubles crown with Roger Federer.
   Israel's Jonathan Erlich and Andy Ram, the third seeds in Aptos and 2008 Australian Open doubles champions, defeated James Cerretani of the United States and Michael Venus of New Zealand 6-3, 6-4 in the opening round.
   Capital gains -- Last week's Citi Open in Washington, D.C., was a good tournament for men and women with Sacramento-area ties.
   Dmitry Tursunov, a Moscow native who trains in Granite Bay, reached the singles semifinals to jump from No. 61 to No. 43 in the world rankings. The 30-year-old veteran has been plagued by injuries since reaching a career-high No. 20 in 2006.
   Mardy Fish and Taylor Townsend, teammates on the Sacramento Capitals of World TeamTennis last month, reached the men's and women's doubles finals, respectively.
   Fish, a 31-year-old Los Angeles resident, and Radek Stepanek of the Czech Republic lost to Julien Benneteau of France and Nenad Zimonjic of Serbia 7-6 (5), 7-5 in a matchup of unseeded teams.
   Fish, who has played sporadically for the past 18 months because of heart palpitations, soared 203 places in the doubles rankings to No. 141. He climbed to a career-high No. 14 in 2009.
   The unseeded Townsend, 17, from Boca Raton, Fla., and Eugenie Bouchard, 19, of Canada fell to No. 1 seeds Shuko Aoyama of Japan and Vera Dushevina of Russia 6-3, 6-3. Townsend, who won the Wimbledon junior girls doubles title with Bouchard last year, skyrocketed 239 notches to No. 294 in the world.  
$100,000 COMERICA BANK CHALLENGER
At Seascape Sports Club in Aptos, Calif.
First-round singles
   James McGee, Ireland, def. Ryan Harrison (4), United States, 6-3, 3-6, 7-5.
Second-round singles
   Mischa Zverev (7), Germany, def. Dennis Novikov, United States, 7-6 (5), 6-2.
   Wayne Odesnik (5), United States, def. Denys Molchanov, Ukraine, 6-3.6-2.
   Evgeny Donskoy (2), Russia, def. Ruben Bemelmans, Belgium, 3-6, 7-6 (4), 6-4.
   Bradley Klahn, United States, def. Donald Young, United States, 6-4, 6-4.
First-round doubles
   Jonathan Erlich and Andy Ram (3), Israel, def. James Cerretani, United States, and Michael Venus, New Zealand, 6-3, 6-4.
   Marcos Giron and Raymond Sarmiento, United States, def. Jeff Dadamo and Dennis Novikov, United States, 6-3, 6-4
   Maxime Authom and Olivier Rochus, Belgium, def. Purav Raja and Divij Sharan (1), India, 6-4, 6-2.
   Mikhail Kukushkin, Kazakhstan, and Denys Molchanov, Ukraine, def. Bjorn Fratangelo and Mitchell Krueger, United States, 6-4, 3-6, 1-0 (10-3).
   Farrukh Dustov, Uzbekistan, and Malek Jaziri, Tunisia, def. Wayne Odesnik and Tennys Sandgren, United States, 7-5, 7-5.
   Tatsuma Ito and Hiroki Moriya, Japan, def. Andre Dome and Jordan Kepler, United States, 6-4, 6-1.   
Thursday's schedule
Center Court
(Starting at 10 a.m.)
   James McGee, Ireland, vs. Farrukh Dustov, Uzbekistan.
   Tennys Sandgren, United States, vs. Yuichi Sugita, Japan.  
   Daniel Evans, Great Britain, vs. Jimmy Wang (8), Taiwan.
(Not before 3 p.m.)
   Maxime Authom and Olivier Rochus, Belgium, vs. Ruben Bemelmans, Belgium, and Frederik Nielsen, Denmark.
(Not before 5:15 p.m.)
   Guido Pella (1), Argentina, vs. Brian Baker, United States.
Court 5
(Starting at 1 p.m.)
   Mikhail Kukushkin, Kazakhstan, and Denys Molchanov, Ukraine, vs. Jonathan Erlich and Andy Ram (3), Israel.
(Not before 3:30 p.m.)
   Tatsuma Ito and Hioki Moriya, Japan, vs. Marcos Giron and Raymond Sarmiento, United States.
(Not before 4:30 p.m.)
   Chris Guccione and Matt Reid (4), Australia, vs. Farrukh Dustov, Uzbekistan, and Malek Jaziri, Tunisia.

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