Wimbledon 2012: Young Americans Acquit Themselves Well

Five thoughts on the conclusion of Wimbledon's third day, another rain-shortened affair. But hey, this one at least included a prince.

1. Ryan Harrison is close.

Novak Djokovic is the No. 1 player in the world and the winner of four of the last six slams. Young American Ryan Harrison, whether he wants to be or not, is still in the "moral victories" stage of what could one day be an excellent career. Harrison threw some haymakers at Djokovic in Wednesday's 6-4, 6-4, 6-4 loss, but he just couldn't land the punches that counted. The two had almost the exact same winners-to-unforced-errors ratio (31 to 15 for Djokovic, 30 to 14 for Harrison), but the match swung on nine points; Harrison forced six break points on Djokovic's serve, and Djokovic forced three on Harrison's. Djokovic won all nine points. That'll do it. Djokovic needed just one break point per set to control the match.

In virtually all phases of the game, Harrison just needs to improve a little bit. He won 73 percent of his first-serve points and 48 percent of his second-serve points -- improve each of those by just 5 percent to 10 percent (that is, win one more of every 10 to 20 service points) and he's in business. Meanwhile, he won just 22 percent of the points on Djokovic's serve; that must improve. If there's a specific weakness in his game, that's it. Djokovic clearly respected Harrison's game and served quite aggressively, but Harrison needs to figure out a way to get a little bit better in that regard.

Harrison ranks 48th in the world right now, and that is only going to improve. But whether he improves to top-30 level or top-15 depends on whether he can improve by, say, 5 percent in certain aspects of his game. In tennis, there is just a minuscule difference between being very good and great. We'll see where Harrison ends up.

2. Sloane Stephens is closer.

This is not the game you used to know. There is no 17-year-old Venus Williams making the U.S. Open finals. There is no 17-year-old Maria Sharapova winning Wimbledon. There is no 17-year-old Serena Williams winning the U.S. Open. You cannot just physically blow the field away anymore. As a result, there are now only three teenagers ranked in the women's top 100. One of them, however, is Florida's Sloane Stephens. It takes a long time to establish yourself on the women's tour, but she may have found the fast track. She took out one seeded player in advancing to the third round at the 2011 U.S. Open, she advanced to the fourth round of May's French Open, and on Wednesday she took out No. 23 Petra Cetkovska in three sets.

The road doesn't get any easier -- if she knocks off No. 15 Sabine Lisicki in the third round, she probably gets No. 1 Maria Sharapova in the fourth (though Sharapova still has some work to do in her postponed second-round match versus Tsvetana Pironkova) -- but she continues to improve. On Wednesday, Stephens overcame some serious adversity, fighting off four set points in the first set, falling down 6-4 in the tie-breaker, and coming back to take the set. At 27, Cetkovska has been around for quite a while, and Stephens seemed to have the mental advantage. That is an excellent sign for the future.

3. Back-To-Wall Caroline Wozniacki is damn good.

Caroline Wozniacki, who might as well legally change her name to "Former No. 1 Caroline Wozniacki," seemed to only find fifth gear when her back was against the wall during her 5-7, 7-6, 6-4 loss to Tamira Paszek. She saved set points in the first set and fought hard on match points, as well. The problem, of course: She needs to find that fifth gear a little more often.

It has been a tough year for Wozniacki. Not only has she fallen from the No. 1 spot in the WTA rankings, and not only is she now very much in danger of falling out of the top 10 entirely, but her Grand Slam performances have been disappointing with higher regularity. She has failed to live up to her seed in a single Grand Slam event since her run to the 2009 U.S. Open finals, and her loss to Paszek was her first first-round slam exit since her very first appearance in one (the 2007 French Open). Life off the court seemingly couldn't be better -- she's got a new underwear line, she's dating Rory McIlroy -- but she just doesn't bring enough firepower to the table right now. The women's game has improved a decent amount over the last couple of years, and for now, it's left her behind.

And it was only a matter of time before somebody was going to ask about McIlroy.

It's crazy to ask about that, but ... then again ... McIlroy hasn't exactly been lighting the golf world aflame of late, either ...

4. Back-To-Wall Maria Sharapova is better.

Serving down 6-5 in the first set versus Tsvetana Pironkova, Maria Sharapova fell behind 0-40, giving Pironkova three set points after she had already faced some earlier in the set. No worries. She won 12 of the final 15 points of the set and hammered out a tie-break win. There's a reason why Sharapova almost never loses a three-set match: Her focus is not going to waver. She plays poorly sometimes, but she has regained the No. 1 ranking with the best resilience and focus on the women's tour.

5. Seriously, Prince Charles? Forty-two years?

Prince Charles made his first visit to Wimbledon today since 1970. I mean ... I know you're busy being a figurehead and all, but you only now thought it might be a good idea to come and see Roger Federer play?

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