An All-Star Returns

Posted on April 15, 2020

Ryan Harrison set to mark his fourth WTT season with the Aviators

When the San Diego Aviators last hoisted the King Trophy in 2016, it was an epic, dynasty-busting season, breaking the Washington Kastles’ five-year run as league champs. The Aviators’ Ryan Harrison was an instant fan favorite, wowing with blazing serves on court and a boundless source of support for his team from the bench. Named WTT’s 2016 Male MVP, he became synonymous with the team, playing again in Aviators Red in 2017 as well as 2019. With Harrison set to return once again in 2020, San Diego fans have yet another reason to look forward to World TeamTennis this July.

We got a reminder of just what we can expect from Harrison when he was tapped to play on Team Maria Sharapova in the World TeamTennis Celebrity All-Star Match, which took place on the Aviators’ home turf at Omni La Costa Resort & Spa on March 1 and aired on CBS earlier this month. Playing alongside stars from around the league including Bob and Mike Bryan, Madison Keys, Sam Querrey, Taylor Townsend, and Coco Vandeweghe, Harrison played in three of five sets and rallied his team throughout the match for captains Mardy Fish and Maria Sharapova with show-stopping plays and pure power, giving everything until the very last point.

“It was a really special moment, so many people that I’ve looked up to, played with, played against,” says Harrison. “Another special thing was that I hadn’t had an opportunity to play in these mixed doubles formats a whole lot [before]. I was able to play with Coco and against Taylor, and on a team with Maria as a captain, and it was just such a cool experience to have that dynamic. I think that we’ve all seen the excitement that World TeamTennis brings, and that sort of all-inclusive format that makes everybody’s match and everybody’s individual set be important, but then to do that with true legends of the sport like Maria and Bob and Mike, Mardy, and James [Blake], and a number of different players that were out there — it was just a surreal experience and I’m thankful that I was a part of it.”

As chance would have it, the WTT Celebrity All-Star Match was one of the last events that Harrison played before the coronavirus pandemic paused the ATP and WTA tours. As Harrison follows the guidelines to stay home just like the rest of us, he also respects the decisions that were made to ensure player safety, offering a player’s perspective on how the impact on tennis in particular is unique—and why its effects might go deeper than any other sport.

“My guess would be that tennis will probably be one of the last sports that can resume because of the global travel,” he says. With players representing countries on every continent except Antarctica and events held around the world, it is very much a global sport. “You can’t just box out one particular region or one particular country, so if…the virus is in containment over here in the U.S. but it’s not globally contained, or if it’s still going spreading in other parts of the world, tennis won’t be able to resume because we have so many foreign tournaments in different places in the world. And, the tour can’t resume with just a partial schedule because that would be unfair to different regions of the world so, I think that tennis is going to be erring on the side of caution and erring on the side of being last to resume,” he explains. “I also think that’s why we were first to suspend — tennis came out and suspended the BNP Paribas Open up in Indian Wells before any other major sport had gone on suspension or had stopped playing, and that was because of the global travel that’s required for tennis.”

While Harrison is working to stay active at home, he’s also maintaining a healthy perspective on what this unexpected time offers players used to being on the road. “We all know that we have a few months off at least right now since there’s no play before Wimbledon, so I think everybody can take a little bit of a deep breath knowing that there’s nothing in the immediate future and maybe enjoy some family time and have a little bit of time to relax,” he says. “But, I think as soon as you see some containment of the situation, you’ll see a lot of different players who are really going to use this time off to be extra healthy and in shape. Everyone has to do the best they can to focus on using this time wisely. I think that using this off time to really focus on being healthy and fit and strong and ready to resume whenever we’re able to is probably the biggest focus.”

For so many players, Harrison included, playing professional tennis is literally living out a lifelong dream—one they’re eager to get back to.

“When you’re out there playing, the travel and the grind of the tour can feel like it’s building up and you spend so much time on the road, and then as soon as you get home, you realize how much you love it, how much you love being out there and how much you miss it. Everyone looks forward to those days when they get back home and don’t have anything to do and you can just kind of relax, but it’s really weird because, tennis players especially, as soon as we get that sort of freedom for a couple days, then it’s all of a sudden like we don’t want it anymore. We want to get back out there, so I definitely feel like there’s a hunger and an excitement to get back on the tour, hopefully sooner than later, but obviously we want to be doing our part as tennis players and as a tennis whole and tennis family to not spread this deadly disease,” he says.

The term “tennis family” is not just figurative for Harrison, who’ll team up with sister-in-law Christina McHale on the Aviators for a second consecutive season. He also hails from impressive tennis stock — his father, Pat Harrison, is a veteran tennis coach and the current director of tennis operations at Florida’s famed IMG Academy. His brother, Christian, is also a professional tennis player. He says that though his passion for tennis is very much his own, having his father’s guidance and help navigating his career, from juniors to now, has been essential.

“I had this personal drive to be better. I wasn’t forced to play and neither was my brother, but my dad was a player himself and a great coach, and had this mindset that he really wanted to help us live out our dreams of becoming a professional tennis player. And obviously, as a kid and when you’re growing up, you’re naïve in some of the decisions that you make, and I think that my dad always did a great job of keeping us in check,” he says. “I was very lucky. I was brought up in a household where my dad did such an incredible job. One thing I want to bring into my family one day is what I learned from him and that was just always making us all feel like whatever was going on in the world, we were going to be OK because he was going to make sure that we were ok.” Though not yet a parent himself — he and his wife, Lauren, recently celebrated their third wedding anniversary — he says kids will come “sooner than later, I’m sure.”

That mentality of responsibility likely factors in more than a little when Harrison steps up for his team, wanting to ensure he takes care of them and does his part for the success of the whole. “I’ve always been a team sport person. I really love watching great athletes lead their teams to titles, and you get visions of watching Tom Brady or Drew Brees or Peyton Manning, guys in the Super Bowl and the ball is in their court,” he says. And like those celebrated champions he admires, Harrison surely has his eye on raising a trophy for his own team once again when World TeamTennis returns this July.

If you missed Harrison and the other All-Stars in the WTT All-Star Match, you can stream the CBS special of the match here. Be sure to also check out the new series Harrison’s Happy Hour streaming on our Facebook and YouTube channels!