Ryan Harrison has gone green at the dining table, eating broccoli and spinach for nutritional strength. For a set and a half, the 19-year-old Harrison was force fed a diet of imposing shotmaking from Roger Federer, who served for the match at 5-3 in the second set today. Hungry for more, Harrison dragged the third-seeded Swiss into a tie breaker but Federer closed the curtain in dishing out a 6-2, 7-6 (3) win to reach the Sony Ericsson Open third round for the 12th straight time.
Nearly untouchable on serve in the opening set, Federer frequently had the last word in baseline exchanges. He won 16 of 19 points on serve and more than doubled Harrison's winner output (11 to 4) in sealing the 25-minute first set with a forehand winner down the line that wrong footed the American wild card. Early on, Harrison's backhand slice lacked both bite and depth and when Federer held at 15 for a 5-2 second-set lead the outcome appeared inevitable.
Watching Federer dance behind the baseline choreographing controlled aggression reminded me of an old Andre Agassi response after a challenging match. Asked if the thought had crossed his mind that he should be beating a lower-ranked opponent more soundly, Agassi replied: "The only time you should be beating someone is when you are beating someone." Elite players don't often take opponents or matches for granted. During much of this inspired run in which he's won 40 of his last 42 matches, Federer has shown that ruthless urgency and appeared on course for a one-hour routine win but Harrison refused to go quietly.
The smooth service motion, vicious uppercut topspin forehand and his willingness to attack net are among his strengths, but what I like most about Harrison is his feisty defiance and desire. Harrison, whose appetite for the fight rivals Popeye's fervor for spinach, embarked on a corner to corner sprint, ran down a Federer shot and tossed up a desperation defensive lob near the back wall. Looking up into the high sun, Federer badly bungled an overhead eight feet long then slapped a forehand into net as Harrison earned double break point. On the ensuing point, a fan yelled "out!" after a Federer drive prompting him to mistakenly stop play as Harrison broke for the first time then held at 15 to forge a 5-5 tie. His blue shirt saturated with sweat, Harrison stood toe-to-toe with Federer in several forehand exchanges down the stretch, but Federer found separation when he needed it, firing successive forehand winners than sneaking a stretch forehand lob inside the baseline for the mini-break and a 4-2 lead. A Federer inside-out forehand was called wide, he challenged and replay showed the shot was good as he stretched the lead to 5-3. Harrison netted a running forehand ending an entertaining one hour, 23-minute match.
"That was good Ryan," a smiling Federer said as the pair shook hands at net. The two-time Miami champion's recent all-American run continues. Federer, who beat John Isner in last Sunday's Indian Wells final, meets another two-time Sony Ericsson Open champion, Andy Roddick, next. Federer has won 21 of 23 meetings with Roddick.