‘King’ Harris hungry for first ATP crown

16 January 2020, by Reem Abulleil

When a teenaged Lloyd Harris first played Davis Cup, his South African team-mates nicknamed him ‘King’ because he was this 18-year-old rookie beating players a decade or so older than he was.

But while Harris showed his potential from a young age, his road to the top 100 – which he broke for the first time 11 months ago – was long and arduous; grinding his way from Futures events in Egypt, to now making his second ATP semi-final that would see him make his top-80 debut next week.

The 22-year-old from Cape Town followed up his strong showing at the ATP Cup last week – defeating Nicolas Jarry and pushing Gilles Simon and Dusan Lajovic to three sets – by storming into the final four in Adelaide with a 6-3, 6-3 victory over No.4 seed Pablo Carreno Busta on Thursday.

It was just the third top-30 win for Harris, who dropped a mere seven points on serve against the Spaniard, and faced zero break points.

“It’s been a long process for me,” the South African qualifier said after the match.

“I don’t have any wildcards or any big tournaments I could get into in my country or anything like that. So it was a long road for me. I was playing Futures for two years, two-and-a-half years before starting off on the Challengers, kind of winning a couple rounds here and there, having to drop back, playing a lot of Futures. Just keep myself in the rankings.

“Eventually got into the Grand Slam qualifying. Wasn’t winning any matches there. So it was a long journey, and I had to really grind for a long time.

“If I look back, I mean, still two years ago I was still playing Futures. So it’s not a very distant memory.

“I have very good memories, a lot of good success that came out of there. I think it’s really helped me with the person I am now and just that extra little bit of fight and hard work I had to put in to make it to where I am now.

“I believe going forward it just makes me stronger and a better competitor. I feel like I really deserve it.”

Standing between Harris and a maiden ATP final is 22-year-old American Tommy Paul, who took down Albert Ramos-Vinolas 6-3, 6-4 to make his first ATP semi-final.

Harris feels more comfortable in this setting compared to his run to the Chengdu semi-finals last September.

“I feel like this time around at least I have been there. I’m not a stranger to that anymore. Playing with a lot of confidence, beating a couple of really high players,” said the 22-year-old. “So I’m looking forward to the challenge, and one of my main goals for this year is to go deep in an ATP tournament and win a title. So I’ll be chasing that. I’m hungry for that. I’ll be giving it my all out there.”

Harris admits that he struggled with consistency last season, but credits the progress he has made physically for his confident start to 2020, which has also fed into his mental strength, believing in his body and his game even more.

When Harris joined long-time top-100 resident Kevin Anderson in that elite bracket in February 2019, it was the first time since 2004 South Africa had two men featuring in the top 100. The 33-year-old Anderson, who lives in Florida, has reached two Grand Slam finals, and has been South Africa’s main man for more than a decade. Harris is now happy to share the burden with his compatriot, and is keen to play a part in raising the profile of the sport once again back home.

“I think it’s something we really need as a country, for more than one player to be successful and be doing well week in, week out on the tour, because that just lifts and boosts the country,” says Harris.

“And especially, I’m still living in Cape Town, still residing there, I feel like whenever I’m back home I can make a big impact on all the younger players, all the younger kids. A lot of the juniors and the younger players that are good are from around my area and I get back to see them when I’m back in South Africa.

“So just by trying to give back a little bit to them and just to boost tennis all in all. We have an exhibition coming up, as well, in Cape Town [Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer are playing there in February], we’re really trying to raise awareness that, listen, we’re actually such a great tennis nation, let’s get the people more involved, let’s get the younger kids more involved.

“Let’s try and get back to that point where we have a bunch of players in the top 100, and also try and get some female players up there again.”