New York, USA, 7 September 2021 – South Africa’s leading tennis player Lloyd Harris continued his strong run at the US Open in Flushing on Monday, overcoming American Reilly Opelka to reach his maiden major quarter final round.
Harris eliminated the American 22^nd seed in four sets, prevailing 6-7(), 6-4, 6-1, 6-3 in a match which lasted two hours and 35 minutes.
The 24-year-old joins Kevin Anderson as the second South African Grand Slam men’s quarter-finalist since Wayne Ferreira at the 2003 Australian Open.
In a tight first set, in which both players were dominant on serve, Opelka raised his level in the big points with his powerful groundstrokes. The American fended off 86 per cent (6/7) of break points that he faced in the opener and saved a set point at 5/6 in the first-set tie-break, before capturing it with a heavy forehand.
Harris continued to stick with Opelka in the second set though as he fired 11 aces and found his rhythm on his groundstrokes, committing just seven unforced errors to level. Fuelled by momentum, the 24-year-old continued to get a grasp of Opelka’s serve as he moved close to the baseline on return to cut off the angles, breaking twice to race 5-0 ahead.
After holding serve to seal the set, Harris continued to come out on top in the lengthy exchanges in the fourth set. The South African won 100 per cent (14/14) of his first-serve points in the set to advance.
Harris upset Russia’s Karen Khachanov and earned his third Top 10 win of the season against World No. 10 Denis Shapovalov en route to the last 16.
Harris will next face a tough challenge in world No.4 and 2020 US Open finalist Alexander Zverev.
Q & A WITH LLOYD HARRIS
Q: If you could, please give us your thoughts on the big win today.
LLOYD HARRIS: Yeah, I mean, obviously I’m super happy to get through that first match, first fourth round for me today. It was a really tough match. Reilly is always going to come with a lot of big serves, that’s for sure.
I think I handled it well after going down that first set. I held my composure. I served really well throughout the match. All in all, I’m just very, very pleased and very relieved after that performance.
Q: What has made the difference for you in terms of your game lately?
LLOYD HARRIS: I mean, for sure, it’s been a lot better season for me. I think one of the words you use there, much more consistent season.
Yeah, 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.
Q: Was there work you put in during the quarantine that is paying off now?
LLOYD HARRIS: For sure. It was not an easy time, the quarantine lockdown. Me and my physio, also my fitness trainer, we talked about it, 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.
Q: You mentioned you’re relieved. Relieved of what?
LLOYD HARRIS: I’m relieved to get through that fourth round. 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.
I kept on the level, kept on putting the pressure. Yeah, it’s in a sense why I would say I’m relieved with that. But there’s still a lot more work to be done. Can’t be relieved of the tournament just yet.
Q: Having played Reilly recently, did that help at all in terms of his serve in particular, either feeling as though you have had looks at it not that long ago, that made you more comfortable?
LLOYD HARRIS: Yeah, I guess you could say that. I mean, I knew what was coming exactly. I played him once two, three weeks ago. It wasn’t that long ago. I knew exactly what to expect. 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 knew what was coming. It can be frustrating playing Reilly, that’s for sure. The guy is an unbelievable server. Lots of respect to the spots he hits on big points. It’s amazing. I’m glad I held my composure.
I also served pretty well today. That was pretty nice (smiling).
Q. (No sound)
LLOYD HARRIS: Yeah, I mean, I had to give up those sports. I loved every second of them. I loved the team sports. In South Africa, sports is a huge thing. In school it was a lot of fun. I think I was always a bit better at tennis. I got to compete more internationally in tennis where the other sports were more localized.
Yeah, once I put my head down and decided I was going to play tennis, it was about 15, 16. My coach then, Anthony Harris, he said, Listen, you got to play full-time.
I was playing twice a week, going to a squad, going for some private lesson. Anthony 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.
Q: How well do you know Kevin Anderson? Has he been an inspiration for you?
LLOYD HARRIS: Kevin has done some amazing things in the last couple of years, reaching two Grand Slam finals. One was here. Obviously that gives you a lot of belief. Also being a South African, seeing that your countryman has done it. I’ve been able to spend some time with him in ATP Cup, which was really nice. We were alongside practicing there, seeing how his routines is.
He’s a very professional guy. You can definitely learn a lot from his mannerisms, the way he’s super professional, how he goes about his business.
We get along very well off the court, as well. I mean, 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.
Yeah, he’s definitely the first one that has shown that South Africans can still play pretty good tennis.
Q: We’re sitting here now in Ashe Stadium. South Africa has an incredible history in tennis. Are you aware at all the role he played in South African history, the fight against apartheid? Are you aware of Nelson Mandela’s incredible love of tennis?
LLOYD HARRIS: Yeah, I mean, I’m aware. I wouldn’t say I know all the finer details, that’s for sure. I mean, I was a little bit younger in that time, that’s for sure.
I know these guys played a huge role. Obviously, like you said, South Africa has a rich history of tennis. We’ve had so many people influence the games, have been at the top of the game. It’s a great sporting nation. Tennis has always been one of our strongest sports, I would say, for sure.
Q: How are you keeping your balance, mental balance, with all that’s been going on over the summer, the wins that you’ve had, the results? Zverev was even commenting that he notices you’re winning two or three matches every week. Maintaining that equilibrium, how are you doing it?
LLOYD HARRIS: Yeah, I feel like I’ve been lucky. I’ve had great people around me. I’ve had my full team around me, which has been really nice. Also just the support, everyone from home has been helping me, encouraging me to keep staying strong.
Before I would not do as consistent results, I would say. But now, yeah, like you said, I’m winning two, three matches at least in most of the tournaments.
I think just all in all my tennis performances have been, I mean, obviously a lot better. I’ll just try to stay focused, as focused as possible, and not worry about what’s going on on social media and all of this, just focus on me improving my tennis, trying to get better.
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. There’s still a lot more that I want to achieve and accomplish.
I think just having my mental space as that, focused on the work of today and tomorrow and the next day, that’s kind of helped me.
Q: Could you tell me how important is Xavier Malisse for you?
LLOYD HARRIS: Yeah, of course. Xavier has been a huge influence in the team since he joined. I think he has so much experience, so much that I can learn from him.
He’s been in these situations many times. He was obviously a phenomenal player. Now he can help me with my transition becoming a better player also.
We’ve really had a lot of fun off the court also. We enjoy our times when hanging out outside, having a coffee, having a laugh, having a chat. We’ve had a great environment. We just enjoyed every second so far.
Yeah, he’s definitely had a huge impact. Right now we’re just running on the momentum.