There may be some vague references to later canon. Right now, I think it's only to just after the Hyotei match.
1. A Prince Appears
I had a sudden vision of an AU where Sakuno is tragically crushed in the train doors and tragically dies and tragically doesn't appear in the rest of the series. I wish I didn't dislike her. Tragically.
Ryoma has to ask for directions to the tennis garden when the sign is right there. I imagine that since he's been living in the US, he hasn't learned a lot of kanji. I wonder how he does in school.
If Sasabe is seeded in the Under-16s and he sucks so bad, just who is playing in this tournament? Are all the good tennis players in junior high and all the high school students are weak?
Ryoma uses a move against Sasabe where the ball hits the ground and just stops dead. I don't think we ever see that again and I wonder why not. Frankly, that's as impressive as Tezuka's zero-shiki.
2. Samurai Junior
Ryoma has a perpetually cranky look in this episode, except when he's actually playing tennis. I was kind of surprised, watching this now, what a challenging look he gave Momo after just running into him. (That is, in a non-tennis situation.) And how he wouldn't even tell Ikeda his name when asked.
One of the themes of the show, I think, is how Ryoma the cocky US kid is socialized into Ryoma the cocky Japanese kid. This really points up to me how much he's changed.
Ryoma is first compared with his father in this episode.
3. Seigaku Regulars Arrive
Pan up to Tezuka, looking out of the window. Cut to Ryoma, sitting on the court fixing his shoelaces. And so it begins.
This is Tezuka's first exposure to Ryoma, though we don't know what Ryuzaki-sensei has said about him. He's trying to fix the blocks for the ranking matches, but he's having trouble.
When Tezuka goes out to the court, he finds Arai bullying Ryoma. He makes them both run laps. Ryoma doesn't protest, he doesn't even look up at Tezuka, just goes and runs his laps.
Later, Arai tries to humiliate Ryoma by making him play with a broken racquet, but, of course, Ryoma turns the tables on him. And Tezuka is watching. Tezuka puts Ryoma into the ranking matches even though first-years are not supposed to participate until the summer. And then he makes the whole club run laps.
It always seems to me that the laps are less for Arai's infraction and more for Tezuka's. Ryoma makes Tezuka break the rules.
So, the question is why? Why does Tezuka do this? Because I find Tezuka very difficult to figure out.
A large reason would be for the good of the team. Ryoma is a strong player and if they want to win, they need the best team. And he wants to see what Ryoma can do.
(And The Boy reminded me that Tezuka has to divide them evenly into blocks -- he must have had a spare slot. So why not put in the new kid?)
There's Tezuka's own history too, but don't really feel like Tezuka is connecting to Ryoma because of that. Tezuka's early talent seems like a burden to him, the way he tries to hide his full strength, the way he's bullied and injured.
I can't imagine that happening to Ryoma. He revels in his strength. He only hides it so he can reveal it later and humiliate his opponent. Tezuka hid his to try to keep things peaceful, to keep his senpais from losing face. I can't imagine Ryoma getting hurt the way Tezuka did. He just wouldn't have let himself be in that situation.
First-year Tezuka doesn't have control over the situation he's in. Ryoma is always in control.
I don't think Tezuka looked out that window and thought "mini-me!" But I do think there was something in Ryoma, his charisma perhaps, that pinged Tezuka, that made him consider Ryoma special even though he may not have wanted to.
Tezuka is always watching Ryoma. I think that says a lot.