09 Jan Harrison Continues Comeback with Upset of Garin
By STEVE DORSEY
DELRAY BEACH, Fla. – Christian Harrison added another chapter to the feel-good story of this young 2021 ATP Tour season Saturday afternoon when the 26-year-old American upset world No. 22 Cristian Garin in straight sets at the Delray Beach Open by VITACOST.com.
Harrison’s stunning 7-6(3), 6-2 second-round win on the Stadium Court at the Delray Beach Tennis Center is hands-down the biggest of his injury-riddled pro career. He advances to his first Tour-level quarterfinal where he will face Italian Gianluca Mager, the player who ousted Harrison’s brother Ryan in the first round here.
“Luckily my brother and I, we’ve always supported each other, so I guess it paid off this week because I watched that whole first-round match (Mager) played against my brother,” Harrison said. “Honestly, I haven’t thought about it too much, but it still feels a little surreal.”
That’s certainly understandable, considering that Harrison has overcome eight surgeries over the past 11 years, the last being on his left femur in 2018, limiting his tournament appearances that forced his world ranking to balloon. He arrived here with a world ranking of No. 789 after having reached a career-high No. 198 before his last surgery two years ago. He battled through the qualifying round to earn a spot in the main draw, then won his first-round match in straight sets to set up Saturday’s matchup against Garin, the No. 1 seed who had a first-round bye.
“He played well. He played very good,” Garin said of Harrison. “He played really flat, really fast. I hope he can play like this the rest of the year.”
Harrison is the second-lowest-ranked quarterfinalist in Delray Beach tournament history. He never before had won multiple matches at a Tour-level event, and certainly had never beaten a player of Garin’s caliber before Saturday. He rallied from down a service break to take the first set against Garin, played an overall smart match and broke Garin’s serve to claim the second set and the match.
Despite the roller-coaster ride he’s been on, Harrison has not allowed himself to feel sorry for himself. He credits his father, brother and friends for helping him through the tough times and never allowing his unfortunate luck with injuries to unhinge his love for the game.
“I realized that I’ll be okay, I’ll be able to persevere,” Harrison said. “It’s a big win, but I enjoy what I do. I was lucky to be able to keep practicing during Covid, just keep playing and hopefully have a good healthy next couple of years.”
In his post-match interview, Harrison seemed as though he hasn’t fully processed what he accomplished. But then he was informed that reaching the quarterfinals here has guaranteed that his ranking will improve by at least 170 points.
“Awesome. That sounds good. I’ll enjoy that,” he said.
And with that, he said he was just going to enjoy some sushi for dinner and chat on the phone with some friends. That’s been his routine since he arrived in Delray Beach. No sense messing with it at this point.
Harrison’s quarterfinal opponent also registered an upset by defeating No. 6 seed Sam Querrey. The turning point in Mager’s win against Querrey came late in the first set. Querrey was serving with a 5-3 lead, but Mager broke serve, then held his to tie the set at 5-all and won a lengthy tiebreaker. That switched the momentum to Mager and seemed to take the wind out of Querrey’s sails.
“I tried to push the ball much more,” Mager said of his strategy after Querrey grabbed an early 5-2 lead in the first set. “It was not easy with the wind, but I stay focused on the match every point. I returned very well.”
Mager, ranked No. 101 in the world, saved seven of eight break points. Querrey, the 2016 Delray Beach champion with 10 ATP Tour titles, had not won a match since last year’s Australian Open before ousting fellow American Mackenzie McDonald here in a first-round match.
Mager advances to the quarterfinals for the first time since he reached the Rio de Janeiro finals last February.