2021 saw a considerable rise in hard-court dominance from the world’s best. Novak Djokovic, Daniil Medvedev, and Alexander Zverev all stood out as the top players on the surface in comfortable fashion. However, a certain South African powerhouse consistently stood out as the year went on, and his stunning form is still vastly undiscussed. Lloyd Harris is only 24 years old, but is easily at the forefront of South African tennis–and his performances in 2021 were a strong testament to this.
Lloyd Harris in 2021
Breakout Run in Dubai
Entering the year ranked just inside the top 100 at 90, Harris’ name was hardly flying around with regards to the top players on tour. Unsurprising, considering there were no standout tournament runs or big name scalps to his name. Though he started 2021 with a solid run to the Australian Open third round, it was the Dubai Open where things kicked into gear.
Harris stormed his way through qualifying before coming through a tough encounter with Chris O’Connell in the first round. His second round match-up with top seed Dominic Thiem proved to be the catalyst for not just this tournament, but for the rest of the year as well.
Thiem had suffered a disappointing early exit at the Australian Open, but was the top seed and one of the best hard court players around. Due to Harris’ relative inexperience at the top, the Austrian was unsurprisingly the heavy favourite. On the day, however, it appeared to be the complete opposite.
The South African was ruthlessly aggressive with his serve and from the back of the court. Overwhelming Thiem with some phenomenal ball striking and power saw him secure him a straight sets win, 6-3 6-4. Having previously been 0-4 against top 10 players, this was also his first win of the kind.
Harris then went on to take down Filip Krajinovic, Kei Nishikori, and Denis Shapovalov until he eventually lost the final to the red hot Aslan Karatsev. It was a remarkable week for the 24 year-old, and his potential to be a great hard court player was evident.
A Stuttering Clay Season
It doesn’t take long to watch Harris’ game and assess that he’s best suited to hard courts. He has a powerful serve and likes to dominate the rallies with his pummeling groundstrokes, looking to end points quickly and efficiently.
With that in mind, it’s not all that surprising his clay court season was slightly underwhelming. He only managed to win two matches across six encounters, failing to go beyond the French Open second round. He did, however, manage to grab good scalps against Grigor Dimitrov and Lorenzo Sonego, and lost to players already very proven on the surface, such as Cameron Norrie, Cristian Garin, and Marco Cecchinato.
Given his limited experience of consistent main draw experience, it’s no shock to see him losing these sorts of matches at this stage of his career. He is an excellent mover and his power will serve him well on the clay – he just needs patience in translating his game to the surface.
Improvements To Be Made On Grass
Harris struggled to make a big impact on the red dirt, and was unable to do so on the grass either. However, he again lost to players with more experience at the top and on this surface.
At Stuttgart, he reached the second round but was beaten by Felix Auger-Aliassime, who despite his age is regarded as one of the better grass court players on tour. He then went on to have a strong showing in Halle, where he reached the quarterfinals thanks to straight set wins over Gael Monfils and Lukas Lacko. His tournament was ended by Nikoloz Basilashvili in a close contest.
After a good week in Germany, it was disappointing to see him comfortably lose his first round encounter with Corentin Moutet in Mallorca. However, the grass season offers little time to make changes and assess, and Wimbledon was underway just a week later.
The South African impressed in his straight sets victory over Ricardo Berankis, but was rather unfortunate to come up against the in form Andrey Rublev in the next round, and was beaten with ease.
Harris simply needs more time and experience on the grass to get the results flowing his way. Once he can translate his power and make those important adjustments, he could well be a contender for grass court titles. His huge serve, easy accesses to power, and good footwork can definitely see him achieve this.
This unfortunately is where a number of players on tour struggle – their game may well suit grass, but such short amounts of time each year on the surface greatly hinders this.
Back To His Comfort Zone
The American hard court swing saw a return to good times for the 24 year-old. Though he lost in the first round of the Atlanta Open, he pulled off yet another huge upset the following week in Washington.
Harris showed no fear in his victory over Rafael Nadal, and once again showed his capability of beating the best in the game. Though there were concerns surrounding Nadal’s foot injury, it was a stunning performance from the South African. His excellent serving and relentless power were more than enough to secure another huge victory for the season, 6-4 1-6 6-4.
Though he lost to Nishikori in the quarterfinals, he took his form into the Canada Masters. He breezed past Schnur and Lopez comfortably before a titanic tussle with Reilly Opelka, who was in wonderful form at the time. Though he eventually lost, 4-6 7-7 7-6, it couldn’t have been much closer. Now ranked at 46, he was playing like someone more than worthy of the top 50.
Harris started well in Cincinnati, but was unfortunate to meet the in-form Alexander Zverev in the second round. The first set was tight and went to a tiebreak, but the form and experience of his opponent showed and he lost the second set 6-2. However, he’d had some great performances in the lead up to the US Open, and this lead to the pinnacle of his season.
Best Result At a Slam
Lloyd Harris entered the final Grand Slam of the year with plenty of confidence. His draw was tough, but he was still a dark horse to make a breakout run. Well, he did just that.
His first round encounter with 25th seed Karen Khachanov was a brutal first match for a player of his calibre, especially as the Russian was enjoying a big return to form. Harris fought hard as he always does, and wrestled the match from Khachanov after being down two sets to one. He came out on top 6-4 1-6 4-6 6-3 6-2, securing another big upset to his name for 2021.
The South African went on to cruise past Ernesto Escobedo, before being faced with another almighty task. 7th seed Denis Shapovalov had been all over the place after Wimbledon, but was finding some wonderful form in New York. It looked to be another stern test, but he matched the Canadian for pace and power throughout.
Harris’ returning and consistency completely outdid Shapovalov, and Harris was victorious 6-4 6-4 6-4. He did brilliantly to frustrate Shapovalov, and showed how capable he is of mixing power with patience. It was his second victory over the Canadian in 2021 and also his third top 10 win.
His next task was unsurprisingly another seeded player–Reilly Opelka, who he’d lost to a matter of weeks beforehand. The South African had clearly learnt a lot from this defeat, reading and returning the Opelka serve far better. With his dominance from the baseline, he knew he’d be able to out-rally the tall American all day long. Harris was victorious 6-7 6-4 6-1 6-3, and was now into his first ever Grand Slam final.
Sadly for the 24 year-old, this was far as he would go. He once again took on Zverev, and looked to be making quite the match of it as he served for the first set and had set points in the tiebreak, but he was unable to convert. Harris looked dejected after the disappointment and couldn’t really recover, losing 7-6 6-3 6-4.
Overall, it was a remarkable tournament run and his enormous potential was on show to all. Another jump ahead in the rankings saw him sitting at 31 in the world, setting him up to be seeded for Grand Slams throughout 2022 (if he keeps it up).
End Of Season And What’s Next
After his breakout run, he went on to finish the season without too much to shout about. He made a good run to the semifinals of Antwerp, where he was beaten by Jannik Sinner, and his other losses where at the hands of Diego Schwartzman and Casper Ruud (x2). He finished the season still ranked at 31.
So, what does 2022 have in store for Lloyd Harris?
Harris has already proved that he’s a real threat to anyone on hard courts. With the majority of the season being played on the surface, he will undoubtedly bring everything he did in 2021 and more. He has heaps of talent and a very high ceiling, but he just needs to bring it consistently every week, and it will need to start in Australia.
This will keep his high ranking in check, and then he must find ways to improve on grass and clay. He has the potential to be a real talent on the grass but just needs to focus on the vital adjustments needed.
There’s no reason why he can’t also be a great player on clay – he’s powerful and is happy to rally for long periods of time to grind out a win. He will need to bring this in spades, and work on his patience as it’ll be far harder to smack winners down all day against the top players on the red dirt. However, he’s more than capable of doing so.
If Lloyd Harris can keep up his hard court form and improve on the other surfaces, then there’s no reason why he can’t be a Top 10 or Top 15 player in the next year. This exciting talent is just getting started, and could be in for some career.
Main Photo from Getty.