SA tennis star Lloyd Harris on his approach to the mental game & future goals

Despite a loss at the ATP Indian Wells, Lloyd Harris continues to climb up the world rankings; after this weekend’s action, he reached a new career high of No. 31 on the ATP rankings.

Lloyd Harris. Picture: @atptour/Twitter

CAPE TOWN - South Africa’s top-ranked tennis player Lloyd Harris participated in the ATP Indian Wells tournament - the ‘unofficial’ fifth Grand Slam - on Tuesday, although he was knocked out in the third round by one of the top seeds, Casper Ruud, in three sets.

Despite the loss, Harris continues to climb up the world rankings. After this weekend’s action, he reached a new career high of No. 31 on the ATP rankings. In recent months, the 24-year-old has gone from strength to strength, breaking into the top 50 in August, then moving into the top 40 a month later and now, he is one of the top 31 men’s players in the world.

The former Cape Town resident has certainly earned his rise in the ranks coming up against – and defeating - the likes of Rafael Nadal, Kei Nishikori, Dominic Thiem and Denis Shapovalov to name a few.

Until recently, Harris was based in South Africa, which makes it almost impossible for local tennis players looking to break into the circuit due to the country’s geographical location and therefore a lack of access to high-profile tournaments. This prompted his move to Dubai.

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Speaking to Eyewitness News Sport after his second-round win over the weekend, he explained why he had the make the move.

“I think COVID also forced my hand a little bit with not being able to get back to South Africa all that often. I ended up changing my residency to Dubai and living there now, but for 24 years, I’ve been living and traveling back from there [to South Africa].”

The South African said he was keeping a close eye on what was happening back home, with quite a few tournaments under way hosted by Tennis SA that are recognised by the International Tennis Federation (ITF). Recently, the Curro junior tennis series got under way and the Gauteng North Super 8 and Tuks international tournament wrapped up.

“I’ve been following those tournaments very closely and I see there’s a lot of South Africans that have been competing there and doing well and that’s great to see. I’m so happy to see those tournaments in the country and so much competition going on there.”

FELLOW SOUTH AFRICANS IN THE MIX

Harris, of course, is not the only South African currently competing on the ATP Tour, with Kevin Anderson and Raven Klaasen still very much in the mix at the top level.

Anderson, who has struggled with various injuries over the last 18 months, is currently ranked No. 69 and also competed at Indian Wells, losing in the third round to Gael Monfils in straight sets on Wednesday.

Klaasen, a doubles specialist, partnered with Ben McLachlan at the same tournament; the pair also didn’t progress past the third round.

Harris is proudly South African and knows it’s for the better of the country and the sport that there’s more than one player representing the rainbow nation at these events.

“The better South African tennis can do, the better for everyone in the country, not just the tennis players but for such a big sporting nation, I think it’s important.”

According to a 2017 Tennis South Africa presentation to the parliamentary portfolio committee on sport and recreation, there are 700,000 active tennis players in the country.

So, what needs to be done to get some of these players through to the top level?

“I think it starts with having more tournaments that help a lot with the player development and the players in South Africa getting a lot more matches. Just because it’s so expensive and so hard to travel away from South Africa. That will lead to more players being on the tour and more players breaking into higher rankings.”

No doubt it’s been a challenging year for tennis, and sport in general, with COVID-19 travel restrictions, bio-bubbles and playing in front of no spectators for most of the season.

Tennis players like Naomi Osaka have spoken publicly about their mental health battles and how tough the sport can be on players at the highest level. This has led to some players withdrawing from big tournaments citing mental wellbeing, among other reasons.

Harris has managed to overcome some of the toughest players on tour during a time that has challenged even the most experienced players mentally.

On this, Harris said he approached every game the same way.

“Mentally, I don’t have a problem to face anyone. I think I come up against the big players, I take it as any other opponent, I see every match equally.

“I bring my best physicality, mentality, my best tennis to the court every time. There’s been a lot of tough players, but to say I’ve mentally had a problem with facing a player, I don’t think I can say that.”

FUTURE GOALS

The year is not over yet and the youngster still has some goals he would like to achieve in the coming weeks as the 2021 season draws to a close.

“It’s been a good year so far; I think I’ve definitely reached my first benchmark that I would have set at the start of the year, going in at No. 90 and being at like No. 31 now. It’s obviously already been a year of reaching a lot of goals.

“One of my other goals for the year was winning an ATP title, I’ve come very close, and it hasn’t worked out for me yet. You know, that’s something I’m definitely chasing and would love to see. Just keeping up my good form and try to have the best runs at some of these big tournaments we still have left.”

According to Harris, he will compete in an ATP 500 tournament in Austria at the end of October and the ATP Masters scheduled for Paris in November.

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