BRADENTON - Christian Harrison admits
that he sometimes sneaks a peek at the
men's professional tennis rankings.
When he does, Harrison sees Novak
Djokovic currently on top of the world. And,
of course, Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal
and Andy Murray lurking right behind.
A little further down the list he finds his
20-year-old brother Ryan, one of America's
top young hopes, at No. 54.
"You can't think about rankings and points
when you are playing," Christian Harrison says. "Some guys do but it is never a good thing because it can mess with your mind if you are counting points."
Even though he knows worrying about rankings can be a detriment, you can hardly blame a teenager for occasionally looking for his name on a list that is topped by the luminaries of the sport.
Should Christian Harrison glance at the rankings this week, he would see his name at No. 468. That number may be a long way from No. 1 but it's pretty impressive for an 18-year-old who has missed nearly two years of tournaments because of a series of unfortunate injuries.
His ranking has jumped more than 470 spots since the beginning of the year — which for him did not get under way until April — and the Bradenton resident is the second-highest ranked 18-year-old on the tour.
There are a lot of people counting on Christian Harrison to continue his ascent toward the tennis elite, and the respectful teen would like nothing more than oblige.
"Hopefully I will move up more. I don't want to stay there," he said recently just before hitting the courts at IMG Academy for a daily practice session under the hot Florida sun.
Harrison has had a taste of the professional game and his appetite is growing. Finally healthy, he has been making noise at USTA pro Challenger and Futures events.
Harrison reached the semifinals of a Challenger event in July in just his second tournament on that tour. Last month he advanced to the semifinals of a Futures event in Canada.
"Harrison is a guy who loves playing tennis more than eating, sleeping or watching it," said famed tennis coach Nick Bollettieri. "He just loves it, loves practicing, loves playing.
"He is all business. He has one goal in life and will not accept anything else ... he will be a top player in the world in time. That is all that is on his mind."
After watching his brother have success early — Ryan won an ATP level match at the age of 15 — Christian would like to make up for lost time, his career interrupted by injuries that kept popping up.
"This is the healthiest and strongest I have felt in maybe forever," Christian Harrison said.
It is certainly the healthiest he has been since the Harrison family moved to Bradenton four years ago. It was at that time that Christian began dealing with a litany of injuries, initially hamstring troubles.
After reinjuring the hamstring several times, doctors found an infection in his upper leg and he had to undergo surgery. A variety of other problems followed and Harrison missed essentially two years of tournaments.
Harrison calls it bad luck, but others believe the injuries were tied to a growth spurt.
Harrison had more hamstring issues last summer and, just when he thought he was ready to get on track, he broke his left wrist when he fell while practicing on Christmas Eve.
"Right there on Court No. 1, Harrison said, nodding in the direction of the court at IMG Academy. "I was out there playing my brother, rolled an ankle and fell and crushed down on my wrist. I knew it was broken right away."
It should not be surprising that his brother was involved. The two have played and practiced together virtually their entire lives, introduced to the sport by their father, Pat, who has also played tennis all his life.
Pat Harrison, the son of a tennis coach, played at Oklahoma State and kicked around for a while on the tennis satellite circuits before he married and began teaching tennis. He ran a club in Louisiana before taking a job with the John Newcombe Tennis Academy in Texas. He now coaches at the IMG Academy Bollettieri tennis program and directs the progress of his two sons.
"They are very similar athletically," Pat Harrison says." Ryan is a great athlete who is trying to become a great tennis player. Christian is trying to go down that same road."
While Ryan relies on big shots and a powerful serve, Christian has a more consistent game and has great volleying skills.
"Super, super volleyer," Bollettieri says about the 5-foot-10, 150-pound right-hander. "He also takes the ball earlier, which is a good idea since he is not going to be 6-foot-3 or 6-4. When he puts on another 15-20 pounds, that will start to make a difference. His work ethic is unbelievable."
Christian may not yet have the size of many of the players in today's tennis, but might have the advantage of watching along the way as Ryan adjusted to the pro game.
"It has to be an advantage to go to some of his tournaments and see what it is like, seeing what steps to take," Christian Harrison says. And the brothers are constantly talking about the game.
Being relatively close in age and playing the same sport, the two have played tennis together from the start.
"We would hit together every day," Christian says. "We always had someone to practice with."
But boys will be boys and the two have had their differences along the way. "We would get into a fight almost every time we played," Christian admits. "There was always something."
But there was also always a dream of playing together on tennis' biggest stage and that came true at the U.S. Open this year when they played together in the men's doubles draw.
"The U.S. Open, we always talked about that when we were younger, something we always sort of imagined doing," Christian Harrison said.
When they got their chance they took advantage of it by knocking off the fourth-seeded team of Mariusz Fyrstenberg and Marcin Matowski. They reached the quarterfinals, which pushed Christian's doubles ranking from 1,025 to 175.
The only other time they have played a pro tournament together came at the 2011 Sarasota Open on Longboat Key, where they won a round at the USTA Pro Circuit event.
"When we play doubles we complement each other very well," Christian says. "He has the big serve and I am able to move around at the net. I know if that first serve gets in that I will have a pretty easy volley."
Pat Harrison, who coaches both sons, believes that what Christian needs most now is experience.
"That is the most underrated factor in developing as a professional player," Pat says. "Going through the wars and realizing these guys you have seen your whole life on TV ... that you are actually playing against them. And that you actually belong there."
Sometimes it's worth taking a peek at those rankings.