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Lloyd Harris caps breakthrough season with first major quarterfinal at US Open, outserves Opelka in four
The South African has enjoyed a consistent season that already scored him wins over the likes of Rafael Nadal and Dominic Thiem.
Published Sep 06, 2021
WATCH: Harris scored the biggest win of his career earlier this summer over Rafael Nadal.
Lloyd Harris came to tennis late but is making up for lost time in a major way at the US Open, dispatching American favorite Reilly Opelka, 6-7 (6), 6-4, 6-1, 6-3 to cap a revelatory season by reaching his first Grand Slam quarterfinal.
“I'm relieved to get through that fourth round,” the South African said after the match, following up on his on-court interview. “After that first set today, I think I had a big opportunity there at 5-4, serving for it. I served three double-faults. I looked at my coach, I said, ‘I've never done that before. That was the first time ever.’
“I kind of smiled, shook it off. Then came some more frustrating moments with him serving some aces on big points, but I was playing at such a high level, at some point I felt like the match had to swing in my direction. I think it did.”
Harris boasted a prodigious sporting pedigree as a teenager and was on the court only twice a week while balancing team sports like rugby and cricket before fully turning his attention to tennis at 16.
There's a lot of goals I have, a lot I want to reach still in tennis. Just looking at the bigger picture, not the short-term or the current results: there's still a lot more that I want to achieve and accomplish. Lloyd Harris
“My coach then, Anthony Harris, he said, ‘Listen, you got to play full-time, you got to start doing homeschool, some different format of schooling. You really got to start training, do fitness.’
“I was kind of like surprised. I didn't really know what it entailed. From that point on a lot of things changed, I would say.”
By 22, Harris was hovering around the Top 100 with the help of current coach and former ATP star Xavier Malisse, but it took the unexpected quarantine lockdown to catalyze what would become an explosive return to action.
“I got in the best physical shape I've ever been. That's something I've lacked the last couple years, struggling with a few injuries, not always having the time to put in that physical work.
“I came into this season probably better prepared than ever because of that time I had in the lockdown.”
Harris hit the ground running in 2021 with a best-ever finish at the Australian Open—reaching the third round—and backed it up with a stunning run at the ATP 500 event in Dubai, shocking top seed Dominic Thiem en route to the biggest final of his career.
“It's just been better managing match after match, bringing the same quality, the same level of tennis. I always knew I had the ability, I had the level. I never had a problem beating some of the top guys. But it was consistently playing at that level, which was a little bit more challenging for me.
“I think that's something I've done a lot better throughout this season. It's kind of showing right now. It's reflecting that I'm getting a lot more big wins consistently. I'm just happy with the progress I've made in that regard.”
Now on the cusp of a potential Top 30 debut, that consistency culminated at the Citi Open in Washington, D.C., where he knocked out 20-time major champion Rafael Nadal, handing him his final defeat of the season.
Against Opelka, a familiar opponent whom he’d narrowly lost to three weeks ago in Toronto, he found himself reeling off seven straight games after dropping the opening set, finishing the match with 36 aces on the 6’11” self-proclaimed “servebot” after two hours and 31 minutes on Louis Armstrong Stadium.
“I knew exactly what to expect,” Harris said. “I also had some practices with him before that week. I knew a little bit more about where he wants to serve, how he wants to play, set up the points. I was definitely ready for them, very prepared.
“I also served pretty well today,” he added later. “That was pretty nice.”
Set to face 2020 runner-up Alexander Zverev for a chance reach the semifinals, Harris has his sights set on following the trail blazed by countryman Kevin Anderson, who reached the finals in Flushing Meadows four years ago—and ideally keeping the party going as long as he can.
“He's definitely been an inspiration to a lot of kids also in South Africa. That's been nice. Hopefully I can also now show them that there is a pathway for more South Africans to come through.
“There's a lot of goals I have, a lot I want to reach still in tennis. Just look at the bigger picture, not the short-term or the current results, and there's still a lot more that I want to achieve and accomplish. I think just having my mental space as that, [I’m] focused on the work of today and tomorrow and the next day, that's kind of helped me.”