Those who watched Ryan Harrison battle past Milos Raonic at the BNP Paribas Open on Tuesday were privy to something special. It was the first pro installment in a rivalry that just might stretch into the next decade.
Matching Raonic's devastating serve, Harrison flashed his all-court game to conquer the towering Canadian 7-6 (1), 4-6, 6-4 in one of the best matches of the season. His reward is a fourth-round tilt with Roger Federer.
Here are a few thoughts on Harrison, Raonic and a third youngster who caused a stir in Indian Wells, Donald Young, the former can't-miss prospect.
Ryan Harrison: Harrison has received a fair amount of advice from Andy Roddick.
Was how to reason with an umpire one of the things he learned? You'd think so by the way the 18-year-old conversed with Kerrilyn Cramer in a second-round win over Guillermo Garcia Lopez. Harrison logically got his point across, avoiding a rant, in hopes the Aussie would give him a point following a contentious serve.
Game-wise, Harrison possesses almost everything -- a very good, flat serve, a kick serve and a potent forehand. He can also play at the net, and he goes for returns and moves well. One return against Raonic came back almost faster than the serve itself, no small feat, even if using the pace off the delivery.
Fitness and the backhand need work, and Harrison may want to reel in his temper a shade (though there's nothing wrong with some fire).
Did Harrison apologize after zinging a ball near Raonic's head?
The Louisiana native has court smarts and competes well, too, two intangibles that can be taught only to a certain extent. Harrison surprised Garcia Lopez by coming in behind his second serve, and routinely pummeled the Spaniard's second serve.
Garcia Lopez is currently punching above his weight in the rankings, but Harrison topped Raonic and a confident Jeremy Chardy in the first round, adding to solid matches contested last year at the U.S. Open against Ivan Ljubicic and Sergiy Stakhovsky. They're all quality opponents.
Impressive stuff from the teen, who didn't fare as well in January.
Milos Raonic: Raonic shows a maturity beyond his 20 years.
Facing Mardy Fish in arguably the pick of the second-round matches, he needed a medical timeout for a back injury. However, Raonic didn't fuss or turn irritable. Retiring never appeared to be on his mind.
He's come a long way in a few months, and not only in the rankings. After his breakthrough at the Australian Open, Raonic's Spanish coach, Galo Blanco, said he didn't like the way his pupil was conducting himself on court -- some negativity, which was visible in a fourth-round loss to David Ferrer in Melbourne, remained. Blanco vowed not to travel to San Jose with Raonic if he didn't shape up, the ATP reported.
Raonic did, and his first title came. Now that's progress.
Raonic got lucky against Fish, who isn't in his best form as he recovers from a thyroid problem. Fish had looks at six of his eight break points, failing to convert each time. The forehand particularly let him down.
Yes, the serve is his biggest weapon. But Raonic is no slouch off the ground, especially on the forehand, and moves well for someone who is 6-foot-5.
We'd take a Harrison-Raonic rematch in Miami.
Donald Young: One match can make all the difference for a player's confidence.
For Juan Martin del Potro, beating Nadal in Miami two years ago was the moment. Del Potro rallied to win in three sets, and it made little difference to the languid Argentine that Nadal assessed his own game as "terrible" or was enduring personal turmoil. An obstacle was overcome, and del Potro had a fine clay-court season before opening his Grand Slam account in New York.
Maybe, just maybe, Young's win against Andy Murray in the second round will prove to be a spark. Young won't mind that a less-than-healthy Murray, like Nadal, was far from his best.
Young, for those who hadn't seen the 21-year-old in a while -- he sat outside the top 140, not usually a ranking that warrants featuring on televised courts -- struck the ball crisp and clean off both sides. He picked the right times to be aggressive and play it safe, allowing Murray to miss. Even when behind a break in the first set, Young didn't lose concentration.
If euphoric and slightly unfocused, Tommy Robredo, who makes opponents work for points, was the wrong foe to face in the third round.
But Indian Wells was progress. Don't write Young off yet.
Young said he practiced with Pete Sampras in the offseason, with the 14-time Grand Slam champion telling him to get it together. His time with Sampras, as well as hitting with Fish and Sam Querrey, could only have helped.
And a thaw has developed between the Young clan and the USTA, further good news.
What are the odds that Young will get one of the remaining wild cards for Miami?