Ryan Harrison tells his side on SI podcast

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In the aftermath of the well-publicized confrontation with Donald Young last week, American Ryan Harrison went on Jon Wertheim’s SI/Tennis Channel podcast Tuesday.

He talked extensively about the situation, the political climate, his competitive personality and Young.

The 25-year-old has not ruled out taking legal action against his 28-year-old countryman for accusing him of making a racial remark towards him in the heat of their first-round match at the New York Open.

After investigating the situation for several days, the ATP came out with a statement on Friday stating it had found no evidence Harrison had said it.

Wertheim asked Young to come on as well. Young declined, as he has declined every request to speak about it since the incident occurred. 

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Harrison and Young at the net during last year’s French Open men’s doubles final. (Stephanie Myles/Tennis.Life)

There’s no conclusion to be drawn from that either way, only that Young doesn’t want to talk about it right now. But it has given Harrison a platform to plead his own case, unrebutted, over the last week.

Here’s the entire podcast.

 

Long-term reputation damage

“When you look at the damages that have potentially come out all of this, the taint on my name for the rest of my career. … The majority of people know the allegations. The majority don’t know that the ATP cleared it. I’m going to have to probably be answering questions about this for the rest of my career,” Harrison said. 

He said he has looked into potential legal action, but hasn’t made a final decision on that.

“I don’t know exactly what route we’re going to go. But I want to do things correctly. I want to make sure that I’m not just blowing smoke for the sake of doing it. But I know the defamation that I faced. And I know that this is in every way, shape or form a defamation case. And I have a very strong case, considering we have so many witnesses, so any people adamantly saying they didn’t hear it,” he said.

“With that being said, when you speak to lawyers and you understand the legal side of it , there has to be a concrete case. And I think that there is. And we need to discuss how to move forward.”

It’s always been personal

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Young, Harrison and many other American players pose with then-First Lady Michelle Obama at Arthur Ashe Kids’s Day at the US Open in 2013.

The history between Young and Harrison is a long one. And on the court, it’s been a fairly one-sided one, with the younger Harrison holding a 6-2 career record over Young. 

Harrison feels the frustration of that head-to-head played a part.

“I have a very long history with Donald in competitive matches. But we’ve never had a competitive match that didn’t have that sort of personal feel to it. I think that started at a young age. Donald called me out on Twitter eight years ago when I got selected on the Davis Cup team for the first time, and it didn’t sit well with him,” he said. 

“As of late, quite a few matches I’ve been able to win. Donald just decided to take this, and use this as an opportunity to try and find a way to take a shot at my character. And that is a total lack of humane thing to do. When you do that, you understand what the possible fallout is for me.”

“Adamant” witnesses

Harrison said there were plenty of witnesses who came forward during the ATP’s investigation of the incident who not only said they didn’t hear the alleged racial remark, but “extremely adamantly said that there’s no way they could have missed it. 

“In my opinion, I would have faced a suspension of some sort, and undoubtedly a fine. All it would have taken is one witness to come forward and verify that it’s been said for me to be absolutely guilty of this. I have six – seven including the chair umpire – that have written statements all verifying the exact same thing. I think that’s enough grounds to make sure he faces at least a heavy fine, if not a suspension.

“What I want more than anything that someone who can just flat-out lie and make something up like that to face the repercussions. An apology would be a start. We’d have to see after that. There is zero doubt in my mind that this was 100 per cent lying on his part. I know for a fact, in my own mind, that he made this up.”

Harrison talks about a lot of other issues – his politics and how that can lead to all-out attack on social media. He talks about how he is as a competitor, admitting that things can sometimes get personal with his opponent.

And he encouraged anyone who questions his character not to go after him on Twitter, but come up to him face to face and say hello. “I think the way I handle myself and treat people will speak for itself,” he said.

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Harrison and Young found themselves on the opposite sides of the net during last year’s French Open men’s doubles final. Harrison and Michael Venus were the winners.

Silence from Young

In the meantime, Young has remained silent.

You know that Young has heard many slurs of a racial nature during his career. It would be absolutely naive to think he hasn’t. That’s not only the usual social media garbage, but during tennis matches as well. That he has rarely spoken publicly about it doesn’t make that any less true.

Two years ago, Russian Daniil Medvedev was defaulted from a match against Young for implying the that the African-American chair umpire and Young were “friends”, and thus biased against him. 

In that case, though, despite it being a lower-level Challenger, there was clear audio from courtside that was nonexistent at the ATP-level match on Long Island.

Same time, same place for the next month

The two are both at the Delray Beach Open this week, although fairly far apart in the singles draw. They’ll also be in Acapulco, and Indian Wells, and Miami. 

Harrison lost his first-round match in Delray Tuesday in two tiebreaks to big-serving young American Reilly Opelka. Young defeated qualifier Ramkumar Ramanathan of India 6-1, 6-2.

There will be plenty of opportunities for them to go somewhere and clear the air, assuming there is willingness on both sides.

From the looks of it, though, that doesn’t seem too likely.

Harrison speaks at New York Open

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It has been 24 hours since the on-court confrontation during the first-round match between Americans Ryan Harrison and Donald Young at the New York Open Monday night.

Harrison won the match. The handshake was no more than a brush of the fingers on Young’s part. But there was a handshake.

But so far, only one of the two players has had his say publicly.

Harrison posted a 7-5, 6-3 win in his first-round doubles match with partner Steve Johnson Tuesday.

And after that, the 25-year-old spoke to what appeared to be two accredited media at the tournament about what he said, and didn’t say, during the contentious encounter.

Young sent a message on Twitter a few hours after the match Monday night, intimating that Harrison’s comments were of a racial nature.

Harrison responded via Twitter.

Video evidence inconclusive

As it turns out, the video quality of the streaming on this ATP Tour 250-level match wasn’t much better than a Futures match.

Even watching it live, and backing it up over and over again to try to hear something, was an exercise in futility.

It appears the authorities didn’t have access to anything of better quality.

But the ATP put out a statement saying it is investigating the matter.

The New York Times reported Tuesday that Harrison, Young and ATP supervisor Tom Barnes met about a half-hour after the match, where Harrison learned what Young was alleging. 

“I was totally shocked. I begged him to find a tape of the broadcast. And I said I would sign a document right there on the spot saying I would accept a three-month suspension, without appealing, if it’s true,” Harrison told the Times. “I am very passionate on the court. And I know there are times when I have been wrong. But this is not one of those times. That is why I wanted them to listen to the audio, because I know there is nothing like that on there.”

The only words that were decipherable, from Harrison’s side, were after he sat down upon winning the first set, and Young went off for a bathroom break.

Harrison sat there, shook his head and said, “Every time. Every time.”

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As Harrison continued to argue with the chair umpire, Young returned to his own chair, silently staying out of the fray.

Monday night pow-wow

After his doubles match Tuesday, Harrison reiterated his innocence.

“The allegations are just not true. I’m disappointed that Donald said that I did. It’s saddening, because I’ve known him for a long time. I know what I said, I know that I didn’t say … that.  I would never say something like that because it’s just not in my makeup of who I am,” Harrison said. 

“With the disappointing fact that we haven’t found audio. I was really hoping that would come through for me so I didn’t have to have any speculation out there.”

Harrison said that the chair umpire, the ballkids and anyone else who witnessed the exchanges were asked about what they heard. And he said they did “nothing but confirm that they didn’t hear anything like that.”

“All I can tell you is I don’t know why he said that. I know for a fact, with 100 per cent clarity, that I didn’t say it. This isn’t an incident that I have a cloudy or vague memory of. I remember, word for word. It’s why I was so adamant about a video or an audio coming clean, because I knew I was 100 per cent in the clear there,” he added.

A second fellow asked him, if he didn’t say that, what did he say?

Harrison was not specific. 

“We were going back and forth about the match, in a bit of a trash-talking way. We were talking about previous matches. It wasn’t all nice words between each other. We were definitely talking bit of trash to each other. But it was in no way a racial comment. It was all about tennis and matches and that particular match that we were in,” Harrison said.

So, why would Young state otherwise?

“It’s just one of those things that I don’t know, and I don’t want to speculate on it. I try to respect everybody. I try to respect all my opponents,” Harrison said. “Donald, myself and the supervisors met last night and I told him in that conversation – even after some of the things that he was saying – that I have respect for him. I still have respect for him.”

Only one side, so far

Young did not have a match Tuesday; he plays doubles Wednesday. And no one requested an interview with him through the ATP, although we have learned that one reporter did attempt to contact him through his agent.

The Times reported Young was “unavailable for comment” Tuesday.

American players Nick Monroe and Mackenzie McDonald (with girlfriend Chanel van Nguyen) were on hand for the Harrison-Young match. But they appeared too far away to have heard much. (TennisTV screenshot)

He might have been found – on a practice court, or perhaps at the adjacent player hotel.

But it appears he was not willing to talk anyway – at least not on Tuesday.

Harrison told the Times he had crossed paths with Young at the hotel Tuesday, but said that they did not speak.

Two fiery competitors

Both Harrison and Young have had their hot-headed moments – particularly earlier in their careers, although not exclusively.

Young’s outbursts sometimes have been directed towards in the direction of the US Tennis Association, with which he’s had an up-and-down relationship dating all the way back to when he was the No. 1 junior in the world.

For Harrison, there have been wholly inappropriate on-court remarks, on several occasions. He seems to be a competitor who needs someone or something to be angry with, to fuel himself to play his best.

As it is, Harrison has jumped ahead of the damage-control curve Tuesday regarding this incident, which is an uncomfortable “he said, he said” situation.

It’s definitely not the kind of publicity the New York Open was looking for, in its first year in a new city.

Perhaps more will be learned Wednesday, after Young returns to the court.

(NASA-quality screenshots from TennisTV. Video from Tennis Atlantic)

New coach for Ryan Harrison

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Ryan Harrison is the latest American to come out from under the USTA umbrella and go his own way on the coaching side.

The 25-year-old from Texas, currently ranked No. 47 and  winner of the French Open doubles title this year with friend Michael Venus, announced the change Tuesday.

Harrison has hired the indefatigable Michael Russell as his coach for 2018.

Davide Sanguinetti and Peter Lucassen (who works with the USTA out of California and, more specifically, with up-and-comer Ernesto Escobedo) had been listed as his coaches.

“His reputation on and off the court are flawless and I look forward to getting to work,” Harrison said of Russell on Twitter. “Also would like to thank the USTA for their support.”

Russell, 39, wrapped up a long playing career at the 2015 US Open. He reached a career-high singles ranking of No. 60 in 2007.

What stood out with Russell during his career was his off-the-charts work ethic. It wasn’t unusual to see him on the practice courts at tournaments for extended periods daily, with two and sometimes three different players.

Harrison and Russell share Texas roots.

Russell works out of the Houston Racquet Club, where he was named director of the Houston High Performance Tennis Program back in May.

Harrison lives in Austin.

Harrison’s countryman Jack Sock, also 25, made a similar change this past summer.

He had worked with the USTA’s Troy Hahn for three years. But after longtime USTA head of men’s tennis Jay Berger stepped down from that role in June, Sock picked him up a month later.