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Harrison, Venus celebrate special bond of brothers

By Ian Chadband   on   Saturday 10 June 2017
A | A | A

American star Ryan Harrison helped Michael Venus earn a landmark victory for New Zealand as the two close friends lifted the men's doubles title at Roland-Garros.

Two months ago, New Zealander Michael Venus could not have been more proud to act as a groomsman at the wedding of Ryan Harrison. On Saturday, the American helped repay the debt to the man who has been like a “brother” to him by teaming up with his Kiwi buddy to help him make history with an enjoyable men’s doubles triumph at Roland-Garros.

The 29-year-old Aucklander Venus became the first player from New Zealand to win a Grand Slam title for 38 years as the pair, in only their fifth tournament together, defeated Mexico’s Santiago Gonzalez and another American Donald Young (USA) 7-6(5), 6-7(4), 6-3.

They may have been a fairly new partnership at pro level but, as Harrison, one of the US’s top singles players, explained, a special emotional bond with his pal from New Zealand could be traced back a long way and had helped make this a great day for both of them.

Unseeded underdogs battle it out in the men's doubles final

“You always dream of winning a Grand Slam every time you're playing as a kid,” smiled Harrison. “But I know that for Michael and I, it's even more special that we're able to do it alongside each other because he's like a brother. He's been a part of my family. We have been a home away from home for him, considering New Zealand is pretty far away from most tennis training academies.

“He was like a brother growing up. He taught me how to drive, taught me how to do a lot of things - one thing he didn't teach me how to do was talk to girls - but he was someone who’s been there for a lot of memorable moments of my life, including my wedding.

“To have him with me and for the most special moment of my career is surreal.”

The pair, both coached by Harrison’s dad Pat, used to play doubles when they were younger but while Ryan’s career rocketed in the singles, Venus eventually went down the doubles route and when he was looking for a partner for the clay season three months ago, they decided to join forces.

You could see the chemistry as they won their second title - after triumphing in Estoril in May - in just five tournaments here in Paris.

The first Roland-Garros men’s doubles final to feature two unseeded teams since 1993 pitted two highly-rated US singles players against each other but it was world No.42 Harrison - who won his first ATP singles title in Memphis earlier this season - who prevailed over No.51 Young.

"He was like a brother growing up. He taught me how to drive ... he was someone who’s been there for a lot of memorable moments of my life, including my wedding."

Yet, most of all, it felt like New Zealand’s day after a long spell when the sport there has been in the doldrums. Venus, who had been watched by his mother in the crowd, now joins Onny Parun, who won the doubles here at Roland-Garros in 1974, as New Zealand's only men's Grand Slam winner in the Open era, and the first Kiwi winner since Judy Chaloner, the 1979 Australian Open doubles champion.

The US-NZ team held their nerve best in a final set after neither team had managed to break serve in the opening two sets.

Suddenly, with the winning line looming, there were three consecutive breaks of delivery in the decider.

When Young double faulted for the decisive second break, it enabled Harrison to serve out for the match at 5-3 and when Gonzalez struck the ball long, victory went to Harrison and Venus after just over two-and-a-quarter hours.

It was a remarkable achievement for the duo, who had come from a set down in each of their previous five matches.

"It feels like a really proud day," said Venus.

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