17 Feb Comeback Trail Leads Through Delray For Americans
Harrison, McDonald Score Monday Wins
By STEVE DORSEY
DELRAY BEACH, Fla. – The recovery road back from a serious injury can be a tough grind, as Americans Ryan Harrison and Mackenzie McDonald can readily attest. Both, however, appear to be back on the right track based on their performances Monday afternoon at the ATP Tour’s Delray Beach Open by VITACOST.comt.
Harrison and McDonald each won their first-round matches in straight sets at the Delray Beach Stadium and Tennis Center. Harrison, a wild-card entry here this week, defeated Damir Dzumhur of Boznia-Herzegovina 6-3, 6-2 on the Stadium Court, while McDonald was ousting Yasutaka Uchiyama of Japan 6-2, 7-6(5) on Court 1 under sunny, blue skies.
The win was especially satisfying for Harrison, who played here several times as a Junior – including the Clay Court Nationals as a 12-year-old — before turning pro in 2007. Harrison reached a career-high world ranking of No. 40 in 2017, but he sustained an elbow injury last spring that required surgery in early October after rehab treatments failed.
“I’ve been on a pretty good recovery track since then. I got back about as quickly as you can from it,” Harrison said.
The lengthy layoff because of the injury plunged Harrison’s ATP ranking and he arrived here for his first ATP Tour debut of the year ranked No. 433. He played a couple of Challenger tournaments as a warmup to Delray Beach.
“I didn’t want to jump back into this level with my first event,” said Harrison. “I was lucky they gave me a wild card (here) and I’m really appreciative of that because it’s such a meaningful tournament to play my first Tour event back here . . . and I think that really contributed to how well I was going to play. I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. I haven’t played a match in this level in quite a long time, eight or nine months. When you’re coming off injuries you know where your practice level is but the goal is to translate it into tournaments. Today was a good sign that it was coming together in this match.”
Harrison next faces Korean Soonwoo Kwon, who took two hours to upset Frenchman Adrian Mannarino 1-6, 6-3, 6-2 in their first-ever meeting. Mannarino, the No. 7 seed who reached the Delray Beach Open quarterfinals in 2019, arrived here ranked No. 42 in the world. Kwon is ranked No. 82.
Harrison said his goal is to work his way back into the Top 100 and eventually surpass his career-best ranking.
“I did a good job today of kind of forgiving myself for some mistakes,” Harrison said. “That’s going to happen when you haven’t played in eight or nine months. So I did a good job of just kind of breathing through it.”
McDonald has endured a similar path back to what he said is “100 percent” recovery from a torn hamstring he sustained last year at the French Open.
“It was a long nine-month process with rehab and everything,” said McDonald, who is ranked No. 159 after attaining a career-high No. 57 last April. “Surgery was pretty intense. . . . I learned that it’s just part of being an athlete, when you push your body so hard, stuff like that does happen.”
McDonald was a semifinalist in Delray Beach last year, losing to defending champion Radu Albot after upsetting top-seeded Juan Martin del Potro in the quarterfinals for arguably the biggest win of his career before being sidelined by the injury. This is his sixth tournament this year and he said he believes he has another strong run in him this week in Delray Beach.
“I definitely can. I’m still getting a bunch of matches under my belt,” said McDonald, who will face the winner of Tuesday’s match between No. 4 seed Reilly Opelka and two-time champion Ernests Gulbis.
Wild card entry Brandon Nakashima made it a clean sweep for Americans in their three first-round matches Monday afternoon. Nakashima beat Czech Jiri Vesely 7-6(4), 6-1 to notch his first ATP Tour career victory. The 18-year-old Nakashima is the youngest winner here in five years.
“I’ve always knew that my game could compete with these top-level guys out here,” Nakashima said. “I just have to stay focused out there and just worry about my side of the court.”
Nakashima admitted that the thought of what he was on the verge of accomplishing crossed his mind briefly late in the second set.
“Toward the end, I told myself not to think too much about it,” Nakashima said. “It was really fun being out there. Hopefully I keep doing well. I’m just really grateful for the opportunity.”
Nakashima’s next opponent will be the winner of Tuesday’s contest between No. 3 seed Taylor Fritz and qualifier Cameron Norrie.