Cape Town - Lloyd Harris has come a long way since joining the Anthony Harris Tennis Academy as a teenager seven years ago. The rising tennis ace reached a career-high ATP Tour ranking of 82nd - he is now 94th - and his profile has grown since taking a set off Roger Federer in the first round of Wimbledon.
Although the Durbanville native, who trains in Sea Point, ultimately succumbed to the Swiss maestro in four sets, he troubled Federer. His natural ball-striking ability, powerful groundstrokes and booming serve saw him claim the first set 6-3. Harris‚ playing only his seventh competitive match on grass, faltered as the tie wore on against a man who’s played over 100 matches at Wimbledon alone.
However‚ the date with Federer, which earned Harris R820 000‚ was a step in the right direction and points to the progress he is making in the embryonic stages of his career since turning professional in 2015. The 22-year-old has now reached the first round at the US Open, Australian Open and SW19 and the second round of the French Open. His Zimbabwean-born coach, Anthony Harris, is as pleased as punch with his starlet’s evolution. Harris recruited his namesake to the Academy in 2012 and the partnership has blossomed, with a balance between on-court seriousness and off-court fun.
“The sky is absolutely the limit for Lloyd because he has got everything it takes in order to prove successful in the sport,” Harris tells Sport24 in an exclusive interview from his Cape base.
“He has the skills, the work-ethic, the mentality and the support, so everything is in place and it is up to him.”
I ask Harris how the increased fame and earnings will affect his young charge. He offers an emphatic response: Lloyd is humble, hard-working and is taking everything is his stride as his career develops.
“Lloyd doesn’t think he’s a big deal with the increased money and fame and he’s neither entitled nor unappreciative. I don’t find it’s having a negative impact in any way and he is maturing really nicely.”
The man nicknamed ‘The King’ by his Davis Cup team-mates came close to quitting the game he loves owing to a lack of funding and it was the Anthony Harris Tennis Academy and the Match Foundation which kept his dreams alive of playing competitively. The Academy is a High Performance centre for junior and professional tennis players. It focuses on producing future tennis champions - Kholo Montsi is tipped as its next star - and runs a full day, intensive training programme six days a week.
Harris’ mother Cecilia, who has been charting her son’s journey every step of the way since he first picked up a racquet at the age of three, says that he took to the game of tennis like a duck to water.
“I played at Evertsdal Tennis Club and Lloyd was always next to the court because I have an older daughter, Monique, who started having coaching from the age of five. He was very persistent in terms of his tennis and begged me to get him lessons as well,” Cecilia recalls with a glint in her eye.
When the young Harris got his chance to earn his time on the court, he took to the sport seamlessly.
“At the age of four, he was already able to serve from the baseline, “she says.
“As a kid, I recall him always hitting against a wall which we built for him at our home, so that he could hit more freely.”
“Lloyd was a very good player from a young age and started off playing in the Under-10 World Cup. That experience was very good for him and what made him strong is that he never got anything easily. He’s had to work hard to get everything he’s achieved and that will actually take him further.”
Cecilia instilled in Lloyd a love for the game but stressed from early on that he should make his own decisions. She feels children must decide for themselves and parent mustn’t push their offspring to settle on a specific sport too soon. She sees the ages of 14, 15, and 16 as the most important years.
When Harris was 14, he only played tennis twice a week. Though tennis was his premier sport, he played rugby and cricket and did athletics. In the long run, not specialising too early in one sport has served him well as he goes in search of his maiden ATP 250 or 500 title and a top-50 world ranking.
“Lloyd is still the same person but he has become so professional and he’s an inspiration to everyone around him,” Cecilia adds. “Physically the players are all the same and the difference lies in honing his mental capacity. He’s been working on becoming strong-minded and believing in himself more.”
Harris is now participating in the hard court swing of the season and most recently went down in three sets to Ilya Ivashka of Belarus in the qualifying rounds of the Canadian Open and 6-1, 6-4 to Briton Kyle Edmund in the round of 32 of the Washington Open. Harris though will regard such setbacks as an opportunity for a comeback and will be determined to reach the second round of the US Open for the first time ever when the action gets underway at Flushing Meadows on 26 August.
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