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French Open doubles champion Ryan Harrison advances at Ellesse Pro Tennis Challenge

The Ellesse Pro Tennis Challenge at the Emkey Tennis Garden in Wyomissing got underway Friday with six world-class players taking part in the two-day event.

Ryan Harrison, a former top 40 player and Grand Slam doubles champion, advanced to Saturday’s semifinals after defeating Nicholas Bybel of Lancaster 6-2, 6-3 in his second match of the round robin tournament.

Harrison fell to Sumit Nagal of India, who is ranked 458th in the world, 6-4, 6-2 in their opening match. Nagal will face Hugo Gaston, ranked 68th, in the first semifinal at 8:30 am and Harrison will take on 18-year-old Michael Zheng in the second semifinal.

The final is scheduled for 12:30 pm

“It’s a beautiful venue; the house is great,” said Harrison, who competed in the event for the first time. “The setup out here is gorgeous and everybody has been really supportive and nice. So I’m really happy to be here.”

Harrison, 30, has been ranked as high as 40th by the ATP in singles and 16th in doubles. He has won one ATP singles title (2017 in Memphis) and four doubles titles, including the French Open in 2017. He currently is ranked 535th in singles.

“I’ve always dreamed about playing on the biggest stages,” Harrison said. “So to get in that moment (the French Open), and come through and be successful was a dream come true.

“Whenever you’re there (at a Grand Slam event), you don’t want the presence of the situation to make you not play your best. And I thought that I played really well throughout that whole tournament, especially in the finals. I was really proud of myself with that one.”

Harrison, who has competed in every Grand Slam against some of the biggest names in tennis, has also experienced on an arguably even bigger stage as he played for Team USA during the 2012 Olympics. He said that he believes winning a Grand Slam title and competing for his county of him each are special experiences in their own right.

“It’s just so much different when you’re playing for your country,” Harrison said. “When you’re playing for your country, you’re out there, and the name on the front of your chest is USA. That’s more important than Harrison on the back. You always hear that cliché and it’s true.

“It’s surreal to look back on it (the Olympics). That’s something I’ll take with me my whole life. Even the people who don’t quite understand tennis, if you say you’re an Olympian, there’s a like, ‘Oh, man, he’s for real’ sort of thing. But I think that you can kind of put them (the Olympics and the Grand Slam events) in different categories because the Olympics kind of supersedes just the sport of tennis.”

Off the court Harrison enjoys doing philanthropy work. On Wednesday, he conducted a youth tennis clinic at Hampden Park in Reading with more than 30 kids in attendance, including high school players from Berks Catholic, Conrad Weiser and Reading High.

“I love to give back,” Harrison said. “Especially in a cause like this that is supporting kids who want to get involved at that pivotal age in their life when they’re getting to start out their teenage years and there’s so many different things that you can get into. I think that tennis and the inclusiveness of it can really teach people valuable life lessons that are going to help them be successful throughout their whole lives.

“I always want to do my part in trying to go and meet these kids. Even if it’s just temporary or something that they remember their whole life, it doesn’t matter to me, as long as I can make some sort of positive impact. I think that’s what is most important, and I try to take the time to do that whenever I can.”

The event, which is presented by the Berks County Tennis Association, benefits scholarships for the City of Reading (COR Tennis) program through the Reading Recreation Commission.

With a career record of 118-159 in singles and 15 years of experience as a pro, Harrison said he hopes his best playing days are still in front of him.

“I’ve been able to play in the US Open, Wimbledon, all the biggest events, and had the pleasure of playing against everybody on the biggest stages,” Harrison said. “So it’s been fun. I’ve had a good run, to date, and I’m hoping that my best days are still ahead.”

In Friday’s other scores in Group 1, Zheng, a rising freshman at Columbia, defeated Jonas Foretek 6-4, 6-0; Gaston defeated Zheng 2-6, 6-2, 10-6; and Fortek beat Gaston 6-4, 6-4. Zheng won the group and Gaston finished second.

In Group 2, Nagal, who won the group, defeated Bybel 6-1, 7-5 in the day’s final match. Harrison finished second in the group.

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