Sept. 9, 2005
By BOB GREENE, Associated Press
NEW YORK - Rodney Harmon had no idea he was doing something special. In 1982, Harmon became only the second black American male to reach the U.S. Open quarterfinals. On Monday night, James Blake became the third.
"It was kind of like a whirlwind," Harmon said of his fourth-round victory over Eliot Teltscher 23 years ago. "I didn't realize there was any significance. It just happened."
Harmon and Mel Purcell were 18-1 as a doubles team at the University of Tennessee in 1981 and won the NCAA doubles title. Harmon is director of men's tennis for USA Tennis High Performance and now reports to Teltscher.
Before Harmon, the only black American male to go that deep into the second week at the U.S. Open was Arthur Ashe, the 1968 champion and a quarterfinalist or better in five of the next six years. Ashe lost to Bjorn Borg in the third round in 1973.
A fourth American black man - MaliVai Washington - reached the quarters at Wimbledon in 1996.
Harmon won a fifth-set tiebreak to edge Teltscher in the fourth round before running into eventual champion Jimmy Connors in the quarters and going out in straight sets.
"I didn't even look at the draws," said Harmon, now the director of men's tennis for the U.S. Tennis Association's High Performance program. "My coaches told me who I was going to play and how to play.
"I never got caught up in the hoopla."
One reason might have been that he was one of several blacks on the men's tour at the time. Along with fellow Americans Lloyd Bourne, Chip Hooper, Todd Nelson and Bryan Shelton, there were Yannick Noah of France, Nduka Odizor of Nigeria, Martin Blackman of the Bahamas, Ronald Agenor of Haiti, and Yahiya Doumbia of Senegal.
Then they all disappeared, Washington was the only major black player until Blake's arrival. Blake will play Andre Agassi today.
"I hope that he goes further than just the quarters," Harmon said of Blake, then quickly added, "Obviously I'm a big Andre Agassi fan, as most of us are. But I've known James since he was in the juniors. He conducts himself as a gentleman, a tremendous role model.
"I hope one day he wins the U.S. Open. If not this year, then soon."