Years in the making, Christian Harrison reaches first ATP semifinal

Years in the making, Christian Harrison reaches first ATP semifinal

In Delray Beach, the 26-year-old American qualifier beat Gianluca Mager to set up a showdown with Hubert Hurkacz.

After over a decade of injury setbacks, Christian Harrison has reached an ATP semifinal for the first time with a 7-6 (2), 6-4 win over Gianluca Mager on Monday in Delray Beach.

Mager, a finalist in Rio last year, had an early break in the first set, but Harrison would not be derailed. He has been rewarded for his persistence with a Tuesday semifinal clash with No. 4-seeded Hubert Hurkacz.

With a current ranking of No. 789, Harrison needed to use his protected ranking just to gain entry into the qualifying of the ATP 250 event. It's been a big week: he needed a third-set tiebreak to reach the main draw, and then after a first-round win over Tomas Martin Etcheverry, he stunned top seed Cristian Garin on Saturday, in straight sets. 

Harrison is the second lowest-ranked semifinalist in Delray history (behind a No. 1,042-ranked Juan Martin del Potro in 2016). What's more, it's the first time his name has appeared in a tour-level main draw since 2018 and he has won more main-draw matches (three) this week than he had during his entire career (two).

His is a story of unwavering commitment despite the odds. Since 2009, the 26-year-old has undergone eight surgeries: The most recent was to his left femur in 2018, the same season he reached his career high-ranking of No. 198.

"It was tough for me to maintain consistency just because I would play a couple tournaments and then I would have to stop for a couple weeks here and there, or a month, or two months," Harrison told press in Delray. "I was just never able to get my fitness to the point where I needed it to be to play just five, six, seven matches as I've played here, including doubles."

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He and his older brother Ryan are into the Delray Beach semifinals, and will take on Andres Molteni and Hugo Nys on Tuesday.

Anyone with the most basic knowledge of American tennis will be familiar with the Harrisons. Even before turning professional as teenagers, the brothers were touted as the "next big thing". Dealing with the pressure has been a rollercoaster, though Christian has been mostly spared from negative feedback due to all of his injuries. 

"The whole time where I was out I just realized that who I want to be as a person... wasn't always reflective of my tennis success," he said. "I play tennis because I love doing it, and then also I believe in myself.

"I had a lot of moments where I was younger, 15, 16, I definitely had a lot of hype and a lot of potential and when you're not able to play you don't really have that same type of attention. And I just realized it doesn't change anything about me."

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He said he never thought of quitting, but he did consider a doubles-only career. The 2020 shutdown helped give him time to heal a foot injury that lingered from 2019 and refocus on a singles career at his training base in Bradenton, Fla. (where his dad Pat coaches).

This week has been a long, long time coming and, no matter what happens next, he'll jump back into the Top 350 in the rankings. Through all of the ups and downs over the years—he's dropped out of the Top 1,000 multiple times and even lost his ranking in 2015—his dad and brother never stopped believing in him. 

"Now I can look back and you're just very appreciative of anybody that has ever done anything for you that kept your spirits up during those times," Harrison said. "That's how I really feel right now. I'm definitely not going to change anything I'm doing and just kind of be happy with what's happened this week."

A creature of habit, Harrison has been fueling his week of success with sushi and caffeine (cappuccinos with oat milk and vanilla, to be precise). The grandness of what he's accomplished hasn't sunk in, and might not for a while. 

"I haven't really thought about it because I've been going back to the hotel and honestly just drinking a coffee," he said. "I keep myself busy. I might just order Starbucks, Uber Eats, and then just mess around, do something random around the hotel. It really hasn't occurred to me yet."