Tennis: Time for the big guns to fire

By Steve Deane

Ryan Harrison(USA) in action against Sam Querrey. Harrison took the match 6-4, 6-3 at the Heineken Open men's tennis tournament at the ASB Tennis Centre in Auckland.
Photo / Richard Robinson
Ryan Harrison(USA) in action against Sam Querrey. Harrison took the match 6-4, 6-3 at the Heineken Open men's tennis tournament at the ASB Tennis Centre in Auckland. Photo / Richard Robinson

After two days of moderate but, happily, rain-free tennis action, the big guns will come out to play today at the Heineken Open, with the Spanish trio of David Ferrer, Nicolas Almagro and Fernando Verdasco to hit centre court.

Top seed and defending champion Ferrer, the world No5, begins his title defence against lanky Czech Lukas Rosol in the feature match this afternoon. That contest is preceded by unpredictable second seed Almagro's date with Colombian Santiago Giraldo.

Third seed Verdasco's match against Argentine Carlos Berlocq headlines a night session which also includes Kiwi doubles pairing Michael Venus and Dan King-Turner.

While Auckland tennis fans are well familiar with Ferrer's dogged running game and Almagro's combustibility, only the diehards will recall Verdasco's previous trip to Auckland, when he lost to American Michael Russell in qualifying in 2003.

He has played a pivotal role in three Davis Cup victories, ranked as high as seven and gone deep into a host of grand slams, however Verdasco arrived in Auckland with more than just a hefty CV. He is, he insisted after tuning up with a convincing first-round doubles win alongside fellow Spaniard Guillermo Garcia-Lopez, out to produce his A-game. Having one eye on next week's Australian Open didn't change that.

"In tennis everything is like a wheel, everything goes together," he said. "If you play good here it is easier to play good next week. If you play bad here then it's easier to play bad next week.

"Every match is important. Because this is a [ATP] 250 and next week is a grand slam you don't just relax or it is not important. At least me, I am not like that. Even if this is a small tournament compared to the Australian Open it is very important to play well and win matches."

Keen to impress, then, but Verdasco admits having his off-season truncated by Spain's latest Davis Cup victory hasn't been an ideal preparation.

"I did all I could. I didn't have the time I'd like to prepare and maybe have a little more time to rest, but I did all I can and I'm feeling good."

In yesterday's action, fifth-seeded South African Kevin Anderson tumbled out in the first round for the second straight year, beaten convincingly by in-form qualifier Adrian Mannarino. Anderson has a world-ranking of 32 but is yet to produce any sort of form in Auckland in two visits. His match with Mannarino lasted just 64 minutes as the Frenchman coasted to a 6-3, 6-3 victory.

Eighth seed Philipp Kohlschreiber, the 2008 champion, was made to work hard in a three-set victory over Switzerland's Stephane Bohli. Kohlschreiber took the first set comfortably 6-4 before Bohli took the second by the same scoreline to push the match to a decider. Kohlschreiber survived a scare when he fended off a break point serving at 2-3 in the third and then broke Bohli immediately to take a stranglehold on the contest.

Others to progress on the outside courts included Lukas Rosol, Carlos Berlocq and Guillermo Garcia-Lopez. Rosol and Berlocq posted straight sets victories, while Garcia-Lopez recovered from a set down to beat Russian Igor Kunitsyn in three sets. Albert Montanes exited after a straight sets defeat by Italian Potito Starace.

'Next big thing' gets monkey off his back

He's rated as a potential next big thing of American tennis and Ryan Harrison showed why yesterday, demolishing countryman Sam Querrey in his opening round match.

A former finalist in Auckland, Querrey ranked as high as 17 in the world less than 12 months ago. But yesterday the late wildcard entrant looked very much a player on the downward slide as he toiled fruitlessly against a 19-year-old who appears to be heading rapidly in the other direction.

Harrison, also entering as a wildcard, won the first meeting of the pair 6-4, 6-3 in 70 minutes.

"The scoreline makes it seem like it was relatively easy, but if I lose that last service game and he is serving at 5-4, things can turn around in a heartbeat," Harrison said. "Momentum is a very fragile thing, but I was able to keep it on my side for the most part."

Seemingly possessing a maturity well beyond his years, Harrison said he was comfortable with the expectation heaped on his shoulders by a country whose tennis has been in the doldrums since the glory years of Pete Sampras and Andre Agassi.

"I look at it as a privilege, not as a pressure, because there's two sides to it. You can look at it as everything's on me and it's a pressure to do this or do that.

"That's the way that will make you panic and ultimately destroy you. But I look at it as a privilege to be mentioned in the same sentence as some of the guys that I have.

"To this point obviously I've done some things right to put myself in that position, but at this time people are still talking about me being the next big thing but ... there's a difference between being a prospect and an actual producer, and I know I'm far away from being what I want to be."

That said, after sharpening his backhand and service, Harrison appears to have a hole-free game.

The first set was a see-sawing affair, but Harrison never really ceded the upper hand after breaking Querrey early to lead 3-1.

Querrey broke back in the seventh game to close to 3-4, but Harrison's relentless pressure eventually told, with Querrey fading to drop the set 4-6.

Harrison broke Querrey again early in the second set for a 4-2 buffer and he closed out the contest untroubled, holding his final service game to love for a 6-4, 6-3 victory.

"It's a monkey off your back, " said Harrison of the victory.

"To get a win here in the first match obviously it's a relief.

"But I'm not satisfied, I want to keep going."

Today's schedule:

Centre Court - 1pm
[8] P Kohlschreiber (GER) v [WC] R Harrison (USA)
S Giraldo (COL) v [2] N Almagro (ESP)
[1] D Ferrer (ESP) v L Rosol (CZE)
[WC] A Sitak (NZL)/J Statham (NZL) v [3] F Cermak (CZE)/ F Polasek (SVK)

Not before 7pm
[3] F Verdasco (ESP) v C Berlocq (ARG)
T Huey (PHI)/S Lipsky (USA) v [WC] D King-Turner (NZL)/ M Venus (NZL)

Court Two - 1pm
[4] S Gonzalez (MEX)/ C Kas (GER) v P Hanley (AUS)/ J Murray (GBR)

Court Four - 1pm
P Starace (ITA) v A Falla (COL)
[6] T Bellucci (BRA) v O Rochus (BEL)
J Ferrero (ESP) or [Q] B Paire (FRA) v [4] J Chela (ARG)
G Garcia-Lopez (ESP) v [Q] A Mannarino (FRA)

- NZ Herald

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