MELBOURNE—Before his second-round match with Novak Djokovic, 20-year-old Ryan Harrison said he thought that he could surprise some people. The American may not have believed that he had a serious chance of winning, but he did seem to think that he could do some damage.
So it must have come as more than a routine disappointment to find out that he couldn't make any inroads on the world No. 1's game at all. Djokovic was comfortable and in clinical mode from start to finish. On the sidelines, Brad Gilbert called it some of the best tennis he had ever seen—lethal, smooth, and impenetrable all at once. And it was amazing tennis, except that Djokovic’s opponent had a hand in letting him get in a groove and play it. Harrison offered no resistance at all at the start of the match. He lost his first service game at love on a double fault, and spent the rest of the set either getting pushed toward the sidelines or, when he did have a clean look, overhitting his favorite shot, his forehand. Djokovic won the first set 6-1, in 20 minutes, the second set 6-2, in 30 minutes, and the third set 6-3, in 41 minutes.
Rarely pressed, Djokovic didn’t have to take much risk to get ahead in rallies. He finished with 37 winners and just 16 errors. He won 87 percent of his second serve points, while Harrison won just 57 percent of points on his first ball—36 percent on his second serve. But even when Djokovic was knocked off the baseline, he had the answers. Falling backward, he hit a rare forehand lob for a winner, and he essentially wrapped up the match by breaking in the first game of the third set with a brilliant backhand pass on the full skid. Harrison couldn’t beat Djokovic at the baseline, but he had even less success at the net. The American was just 6 of 22 up there.
You’d like to say that this will be a learning experience for the ambitious Harrison, and in a way it is—he’s learned again how far he is from the top of the game, and how much has to improve if he wants to come close to achieving his ambitions. As for Djokovic, he moves on to a third-round match against Radek Stepanek after turning in the finest performance of the tournament so far. I’m guessing a few people around Melbourne took notice.