The #NextGenATP wave is getting bigger and bigger and Lloyd Harris is looking to put South Africa on the map among the stars of tomorrow.
The 20 year old battled through to the semi-finals this past week at the Kaohsiung OEC Open in Taiwan, winning four of five tie-breaks over four matches to equal his best result on the ATP Challenger Tour.
Harris’s impressive 2017 campaign has seen him compete at all three tiers of competition. Contending at ITF Futures events at the start of the season, the Cape Town native eventually transitioned to the ATP Challenger Tour as a regular competitor before making his ATP World Tour debut at the inaugural Antalya Open as a lucky loser.
Just inside the Top 300 of the Emirates ATP Rankings at the start of the year, a higher level of tennis has come quickly for the 20 year old, but it has not been without its learning curve. Now up to a career-high at No. 199, the newest member of the #NextGenATP contingent is steadily plotting his ascent.
“Getting to the Challenger level was a big stage for me and it took me a while to get used to it,” Harris said. “I don’t think I was consistent enough; I had the game definitely – the serve, the forehand – but not consistent enough.
“Starting out the year, if I think back, I feel like a lot has changed and I’ve made a lot of improvements,” he added. “I really tried, especially in the last few months, to play the highest level of tournaments that I could get into. Trying to go for some ATP qualifying events and playing as many Challengers as possible. I think that’s helped my game tremendously and improved small things quite a lot.”
— ATP Challenger Tour (@ATPChallenger) October 6, 2017
Last week, Harris managed to successfully qualify for the Shenzhen Open just three months after his first ATP World Tour main draw appearance on the grass of Antalya. He bowed out to eventual finalist Alexandr Dolgopolov. But the South African cites a different match as the turning point in his tennis, when he believed that he belonged with the game’s best.
“I really had a moment when I played in Montreal. I played against Mikhail Youzhny in the [Masters 1000] there … I ended up losing 7-6 in the final set,” said Harris of his first round qualifying encounter at the Coupe Rogers, a 6-7(4), 7-6(4), 6-7(5) loss to the Russian veteran. “That’s kind of where I realised, ‘okay, you’re on this level. This guy has been Top 10 in the world, you lost 7-6 in the third; it’s just a little stepping stone and you can beat some of these guys.’”
Harris’s own success comes in the wake of a landmark moment for South African tennis: compatriot Kevin Anderson’s astonishing run to the US Open final. In spite of this, Harris and Anderson are just two of three South Africans in the Top 1000 of the Emirates ATP Rankings (the other being Nicolaas Scholtz.) According to the 20 year old, the scarcity of fellow nationals in the rankings isn’t due to a lack of talent.
“Travelling from South Africa, you need to have a fortune of money to travel all over the world. That is one of the big problems,” said Harris, adding that instead of going pro early, many young South Africans elect to go to the American collegiate system for an education and for training – a path that compatriot Anderson himself took.
“Unless you come from a super wealthy family, you’re not going to have enough money to travel freely and around the world, if you’re from South Africa. I think with the right systems in place there’s the potential for more players in the Top 1000.”
Standing at 6-foot-5 and citing Roger Federer as an idol, Harris has the booming serve and rocket of a forehand that could see him make a lasting impact in tennis, akin to how Anderson did match after match at Flushing Meadows. Looking ahead, the Emirates ATP Rankings aren’t his biggest concern. Instead, his preparations for 2018 are focused solely on improving his game, including forecourt play and returns.
“I’m not going to talk any goals—that’s going to come in its own way,” added Harris. “If I keep improving on my tennis the way I want to and keep improving the things that I am working on, then I believe that I can become the best player that I can possibly be.”