Feisty 18-year-old Texan Ryan Harrison not only beat the rain this week, but some dangerous cramps and three opponents to qualify on Friday for his first U.S. Open main draw, which begins Monday.
With a 4-6, 6-3, 6-4 win over Ricardo Hocevar of Brazil, Harrison becomes the first of possibly four Americans who could qualify for the Open. Kevin Kim, Robert Kendrick and Irina Falconi all could follow him into the Big Show with final-round wins Saturday.
Still, even if all three join Harrison, it will be, on balance, a disappointing performance this week by the 35 U.S. players entered in the men’s and women’s qualifying tournaments.
“Of course we want to qualify as many Americans as possible, but we’re happy for Ryan, who really earned his way through,” said USTA men’s national coach Jay Berger. Harrison, who needed three sets to win his final two qualifying matches, was cramping badly on Thursday, but didn’t lose his competitive edge.
The U.S. had qualified seven players at Wimbledon — Kendrick, Ryan Sweeting, Brendan Evans, Taylor Dent, Jesse Witten, Bethanie Mattek-Sands and Shenay Perry. It was expected that even more would get through qualifying at the U.S.’ home Grand Slam.
There were some isolated outstanding performances. Chase Buchanan, 18, another of the U.S.’ top prospects beat No. 127 ranked Federico Del Bonis of Portugal, but then he went down meekly in the second round.
Krista Hardebeck, only 15, won a round, and another 15-year-old, Madison Keys, won a set in her first-round loss. It was great experience for both, who appear to have significant upside.
But, overall, more was expected of the country’s younger players. While everyone in the USTA is happy to see Kim and Kendrick get through, Kim is 32 years old and Kendrick is 30. They’re in the final stages of their careers.
Twenty U.S. men and 15 U.S. women were in the 128-draw qualifying events. The men went 7-14 in wins and losses, the women 8-11.
On Saturday, Kim plays No. 9 seed Ricardas Barankas of Lithuania, another Bollettieri Academy student, for a spot in the main draw. Kendrick faces Tatsuma Ito of Japan.
There are far more young women prospects than men in the U.S. camp, but most of the veterans lost early – Jesse Levine, Rajeev Ram, Michael Yani, Alex Kuznetsov, Lester Cook and Alex Bogomolov. None of them impressed.
On the women’s side, the USTA will be happy with a few good moments.
Julia Boserup, 18, had a win before going down 6-3, 6-2 to former main draw fixture Lourdes Lino Dominguez. Sloane Stephens, 17, had a good win in the opening round before falling 6-3, 7-5 to Zuzana Ondraskova, who has a lot of main draw experience.
But when you get to the bottom line, this was not a successful qualifying tournament for the U.S. It was more a signal of how the American development system is in difficult competition with any number of national programs around the globe.
Sixteen qualifiers will be decided today and main draw play begins Monday.