By Howard Fendrich
The Associated Press
WASHINGTON — Even before Ryan Harrison broke his racket by spiking it on the Citi Open court or screamed “Oh, my God!” in exasperation, top-seeded Juan Martin del Potro was feeling pretty good about the way things were going Thursday.
Playing his first match since losing a record-setting Wimbledon semifinal on a bum left knee nearly a month ago, del Potro began a potentially long day at the hard-court tuneup for the U.S. Open with a quick 6-1, 7-5 victory over Harrison, an American ranked 107th.
Two-time Citi Open champion del Potro said his knee felt fine; he wasn’t wearing any sort of wrap the way he did at the All England Club after hyperextending it on a fall during a match. The Argentine, who is No. 7 in the ATP rankings, hadn’t competed since July 5, when he was eliminated in five sets by No. 1 Novak Djokovic in 4 hours, 43 minutes, the longest semifinal in Wimbledon history.
Del Potro, who received a first-round bye, was scheduled to return to the court to face 14th-seeded Bernard Tomic of Australia later Thursday. That’s because the match against Harrison was supposed to be played Wednesday but was postponed by rain.
“You never know” how the knee will hold up, said del Potro’s coach, Franco Davin. “For now, it’s OK.”
Del Potro only needed to play 70 minutes in muggy conditions against Harrison, who was ranked inside the top 50 last season and is widely seen as the next top American male player.
“He has good potential. He serves well. He plays well on hard courts. But sometimes he looks young,” said del Potro, who was a couple of weeks shy of his 21st birthday when he won the 2009 U.S. Open.
“He’s still 21. He needs to learn a few things to become a better player in the future.”
These same two players met at Flushing Meadows last year, with del Potro winning in four sets.
This time, Harrison began rather poorly by his own admission, falling behind 4-0 in only 11 minutes. Both men hit serves at the considerable speed of 130 mph, but the difference was that once the ball was in play, del Potro’s groundstrokes were far more consistent.
“Sometimes you go out there and for whatever reason, it’s not feeling as well as you want it to. At that point, you’ve got to try to just hang in there, hang tough and give yourself a chance. Juan’s obviously such an established player that whenever somebody is not feeling great, he’s very good about staying on top of you and not giving you a whole lot of breathing room,” Harrison said after falling to 0-18 against top-10 players.
“The best guys, whenever they see someone’s off, they just press you, and they just make you feel like you’re under duress all the time,” he added. “So that was kind of the feeling for me out there.”
After pushing a forehand long to get broken at 3-0, Harrison reared back and smashed his equipment on the blue court, earning a warning from the chair umpire for racket abuse. During a particularly rough stretch from late in the first set to early in the second, Harrison dropped 13 consecutive points, a drought that ended right after he dumped a backhand in the net, looked to the sky and yelled. From there, he played evenly against del Potro, until faltering by getting broken in the last game.
Del Potro thinks Harrison’s histrionics help foes.
“It’s easier for us, because we ... (see) our opponent really, really low,” del Potro said after improving to 10-1 at a tournament he won in 2008 and 2009.
Two other Americans joined Harrison on the way out Thursday with exits against highly seeded men: Jack Sock lost to No. 2 Kei Nishikori of Japan 7-5, 6-2, while Tim Smyczek was beaten by No. 3 Tommy Haas of Germany 3-6, 7-5, 6-3 in a match suspended Wednesday after the opening game of the final set.
In the afternoon’s biggest surprise, Marinko Matosevic of Australia beat No. 4 Milos Raonic of Canada 7-5, 7-6 (7).
Nishikori was to take on No. 16 Marcos Baghdatis later Thursday, while Haas had to go back out to face No. 13 Ivan Dodig at night.
No. 7 Kevin Anderson eliminated James Duckworth 6-3, 3-6, 6-4, then was scheduled to play Mardy Fish of the United States later. Fish, meanwhile, withdrew from next week’s tournament in Montreal; the event said he pulled out for personal reasons.
In women’s action, top-seeded Angelique Kerber defeated 2009 U.S. Open quarterfinalist Melanie Oudin 7-5, 6-0; No. 3 Ekaterina Makarova eliminated Caroline Garcia 6-2, 6-0; and No. 5 Sorana Cirstea got past Alison Riske of the U.S., 3-6, 6-2, 6-3.
Follow Howard Fendrich on Twitter at http://twitter.com/HowardFendrich