- 14 Apr 2021
What happened exactly on that day
On this day, April 14, 2008, Ryan Harrison, from the United States, aged only 15 years and 11 months, became the 10th youngest player in tennis history to win a match on the ATP Tour, defeating world No 95, Pablo Cuevas, in the first round of the Houston Open (6-4, 6-3). No player aged under 16 had achieved that feat since Rafael Nadal, six years before, and no other player has achieved it since then.
Ryan Harrison, from the United States, was born in May 1992. His father being a tennis coach, he started playing at the age of 2, and he soon became one of the most promising players of his generation. In 2008, aged only 15, he made his way into the semi-finals of the Australian Open boys’ event, and by April, he was world No 7 in juniors and world No 1277 on the ATP charts.
Pablo Cuevas, from Uruguay, was born in 1986. He started competing on the Tour in 2003, and during the first years of his career, he played mainly in Futures and Challenger events. In February 2008, he reached the semi-finals of an ATP tournament for the first time in Vina del Mar, where he lost to Fernando Gonzalez (6-7, 7-6, 6-2). Thanks to this result, he broke into the top 100 for the first time, and in April, he was world No 95.
The US Men’s Clay Court Championships were established as early as 1910. First held in Omaha, the tournament moved several times throughout the 20th century. When the Open era began, it settled down in Indianapolis from 1969 until 1987, and it changed locations six times in the 1990s, before landing in Houston in 2001. After seven years at the West Side Tennis Club, it moved to the River Oaks Country Club in 2008.
In April 2008, Ryan Harrison was more than a rookie on the Tour. Aged only 15 years and 11 months, he was only world No 1277 and he played mostly on the junior Tour or in Future events. However, he received a wild card to the qualifications of the US Men’s Clay Court Championships, in Houston, as he had been living and practising in the Lone Star State (Texas) for many years, at the John Newcombe Tennis Ranch.
The youngster made his way out of the qualification draw, and faced Pablo Cuevas, from Uruguay, in the first round of the main draw. It was his first encounter with a top-100 player. Harrison didn’t let that break his concentration, and he didn’t seem to feel any form of pressure for his first appearance in an ATP main draw either. He dominated the first set, which he sealed at his first opportunity (6-4), and in the second set, he broke his opponent in the fourth game, and he concluded the match, 6-3, winning his last game at love. “You always want to feel like you can win,” Harrison told the crowd. “To go out and make it happen is another thing.”
However, in the post-match press conference, he started to realise what an amazing feat he had just achieved. “I’m pretty sure when I get alone by myself later, probably just laying around the hotel, it’ll really kind of sink in what’s happened,” he said. “Hopefully, I can keep it going.”
He was the 10th youngest player in tennis history to score a win on the ATP Tour, joining Franco Davin, from Argentina, holding the all-time record with a first win claimed at 15 years and one month, in 1985); Tommy Ho, 15 years, two months, in 1988; Jimmy Arias, 15 years, six months in 1980; Michael Chang, 15 years, six months, who was the youngest player to ever win a match at US Open, in 1987; Andre Agassi, 15 years, nine months, in 1986; Bjorn Borg, 15 years, 10 months, in 1972; Mats Wilander, 15 years, 10 months, in 1980; Richard Gasquet, 15 years, 10 months, in 2002 and Nadal, 15 years, 10 months, in 2002.
In the following round, Harrison would be defeated by world No 8, James Blake, 6-3, 6-2. Thanks to his performance, he would jump to No 697 in the ATP rankings but he wouldn’t break into the top 100 before July 2011. Unfortunately, unlike Richard Gasquet and Nadal, the two last players before him to have claimed their first win before having turned 16, Harrison would never be a top 10 player. He would climb only as high as world No 40, in 2017, shortly after having claimed his first and only singles title, in Memphis (defeating Nikoloz Basilashvili in the final, 6-1, 6-4). In singles, he would never go past the third round of a Grand Slam tournament, but in doubles, he would triumph at Roland-Garros, in 2017, partnering Michael Venus.