FILE - Lloyd Harris in action. Photo: James Ross/EPA
FILE - Lloyd Harris in action. Photo: James Ross/EPA

Lloyd Harris’ success bodes well for South African tennis

By Ashfak Mohamed, Opinion Time of article published Mar 24, 2021

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CAPE TOWN - Watching Kevin Anderson reach the finals at the 2017 US Open and 2018 Wimbledon tournaments was thrilling for South African tennis fans.

Unfortunately, Anderson has been battling with injuries since then, but while he hopes to resurface at the Miami Open this week, there is a new star that the whole of Mzansi can shout for.

Lloyd Harris made the world sit up and take notice of his arrival to the big time in Dubai last week, where he reached the final of an ATP 500 event for the first time.

The 24-year-old from Cape Town went down to Russian Aslan Karatsev 6-3, 6-2 on Sunday night, but had made his mark in the UAE with a series of stunning victories over top opponents.

Not only that, but he had to come through qualifying just to make the main draw, with a ranking of 81. Following his success in Dubai, he shot up to No 52 this week – his highest ATP slot, having been at No 72 before.

Harris’ giant-killing act started with his triumph over World No 4 Dominic Thiem, which was his first ever win over a top-10 player. He then dispatched 14th seed Filip Krajinovic, again in straight sets, and then held off former US Open champion Kei Nishikori in the quarter-finals – 6-3 in the third set.

Another huge victory came in the semi-finals, when he beat Canadian hotshot World No 12 Denis Shapovalov 7-6, 4-6, 7-6.

The importance of Harris’ rise in world tennis is two-fold. Firstly, he has had to work for years to get this point, steadily building up his ranking – initially into the top 100, and now he is close to the top 50.

That would mean more invites to bigger events, such as the Masters 1000 – such as the Miami Open this week, where he will take on Andy Murray in the first round – and Masters 500 events, like in Dubai. With that of course comes increased prize money and sponsorships … which are always handy for a South African on the European and US circuits.

ALSO READ: Tottenham fan Lloyd Harris looking to end title drought in Dubai

The other benefit is to the South African Davis Cup team, which is languishing in Group II of the Europe/Africa zone. Anderson has seldom been available in recent years as he tries to focus on his personal game and ranking, so having a Davis Cup regular in Harris will hopefully result in South Africa edging towards the World Group I in the years to come.

With Harris still based in Cape Town, he is fully aware of the effect that his success can have on youngsters coming through the local ranks. He told the media in Dubai last week that the support from fans back home has been “amazing”.

“Hopefully this just gives the kids back home some belief, to also get inspired to become a tennis player out of South Africa.

“Ultimately, I’m just trying to showcase what us South Africans can do, and the support from the country, the support from friends and family back home has just been tremendous, so I really appreciate all of the messages, all of the support and all of the hype throughout the week – it’s just been absolutely incredible.”

@ashfakmohamed

IOL Sport

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