ROEHAMPTON – Every one of the 16 men and 12 women who reached the Wimbledon singles draw through the qualifying this week in Roehampton has a story.
Whether it’s a comeback from injury or poor form, a longshot battle against unlikely odds with little support but a big dream – each one is a story of triumph.
But even by that measure, 24-year-old Christian Harrison stands above the rest.
Harrison, the younger brother of established American pro Ryan Harrison, has come back from so far down, from so many setbacks, that just being out there competing at the top level already was a major victory.
But Harrison qualified for Wimbledon Thursday, with a 7-6 (3), 7-5, 6-1 win over his friend, Canadian Brayden Schnur.
The Harrison brothers signed with IMG in November, 2007. Ryan was 15; little pipsqueak Christian was just 13. With that came all the hype and expectations and pressure you would expect.
But as big brother Ryan rose up the ranks, not in a straight line but with plenty of success along the way, Christian’s body betrayed him over and over again.
“He missed 6 1/2 years. That’s a lot. Been through hell. Tears in both labrums, both adductors, right shoulder, right wrist, broken left wrist – seven major surgeries. On top of missing three years thinking he had bone cancer, and coming back from that,” Pat Harrison told tennis.life Thursday.
Harrison, generally an upbeat, congenial man and an energetic presence on the teaching court, could barely speak as he went down the that bad-news list.
His eyes glistened; his voice broke. All the emotions you could possibly feel, watching the son you love being denied his dream over and over again, watching helplessly as he dealt with pain and yet another setback, were reflected in every word he struggled to get out.
It turned out to not be bone cancer. But it took a long time to finally get the correct diagnosis of a Brodie’s abscess.
“It was a bone infection. We ended up finding a specialist at the Mayo Clinic. They drilled into his left femur – that’s what that huge scar on his left leg is – and cut it out. For almost a year he couldn’t use his left leg; he was on crutches,” Pat Harrison said.
Christian had to wear a PICC line (an indwelling catheter commonly used to administer chemo) in his left arm for three months.
“My wife would have to put medicine in it every eight hours, go the hospital once a week to get it changed out,” Pat Harrison said.
“He’s gone through hell. As a parent, it kills you.”
From the ATP Tour website:
A career, constantly interrupted
Harrison played very little junior tennis after the age of 14 because of that cancer scare.
He hit the Futures circuit at 16, and first appeared on the Grand Slam scene at the US Open in 2012 with a wild card into the qualifying. He also reached the doubles quarterfinals with his brother that year.
It took him four years to get back. Harrison qualified in New York in 2016 before losing in the first round.
Two years on from that, Wimbledon will be his second Grand Slam main draw. Going into the week, harrisonwas ranked a career-best No. 200, and he’ll go even higher.
With his parents on hand, who was going to be his first call?
“My brother, of course,” he said.
“His brother is a major inspiration for him. Ryan kind of worships his little brother,” Pat Harrison said. “He’s watched him go through it, and he felt it, too.”
So whenever life beats you down, and you wonder if you should just give up your dream – whatever it may be – think of Christian Harrison, the David with the Goliath-sized heart.
After seven major surgeries, he’s going to Wimbledon.