Lloyd Harris was one of the most improved players on the ATP Tour in 2021. The South African quickly established himself as one of the most exciting players to watch on the ATP Tour and Harris was able to maintain a high level of consistency throughout the year. The South African currently resides at #31 in the ATP World Rankings.
Lloyd Harris in 2021
A Solid Start To The Season
Despite losing in the opening round of the Murray River Open to Egor Gerasimov to begin 2021, Harris played well at the Australian Open, reaching the third round, recording wins over Mikael Torpegaard and Alexei Popyrin before losing to Mackenzie MacDonald. In February, the South African produced some of his best tennis of the season over back-to-back weeks in the Middle-East. In Doha, Harris came through qualifying, before recording an impressive opening round win over Stan Wawrinka. What was particularly impressive about that match was the South African’s composure in the pressure situations and he served incredibly well, winning 80% of his first serve points and he had a first serve percentage of 70%. The serve has become an important weapon in the Harris game. Unlike most players, Harris hits the ball on the rise from the ball-toss and as a result of this, the South African has a very quick service motion and this makes it very difficult for opponents to get a read on the direction of his serve.
In Dubai, Harris had one of the best weeks of his career as he reached his first ATP 500 final. After coming through qualifying, the South African defeated Christopher O’Connell, Dominic Thiem, Filip Krajinovic, Kei Nishikori and Denis Shapovalov. Against Thiem, Harris’s serving was particularly impressive, as he won a staggering 97% of points behind his first serve. It is also worth noting that Harris beat opponents with vastly different game-styles during this run. Against Nishikori, Harris beat a player who is one of the best defenders from behind the baseline, and who also possesses one of the best returns in the game. In contrast, in his semifinal match against Denis Shapovalov, Harris was able to beat one of the most dangerous offensive players in the game. Crucially, the South African was able to effectively cope with both Shapovalov’s firepower and the pressure in the big moments. Although he lost to an inspired Aslan Karatsev in the final, the South African showed once again that he is a force to be reckoned with on the ATP Tour.
Injuries and Difficult Draws on the Dirt
After being forced to withdraw from Miami due to a right wrist injury, Harris returned to the ATP Tour in time for the start of the clay court season. The South African lost in the opening round of Estoril to Marco Cecchinato, the 2018 Roland Garros semifinalist. Despite not going deep in any of the clay court events, Harris was able to record a couple of good wins over the likes of Grigor Dimitrov in Madrid and most notably, an impressive straight sets win over Lorenzo Sonego at Roland Garros. After beating Dimitrov in Madrid, Harris was forced to retire during his match with Alex De Minaur due to a lower back injury. As well as the injury, the South African was also unfortunate in the fact that he had difficult draws in the clay court events that he played. Christian Garin, a player who thrives on Clay defeated Harris in the opening round in Rome and Cameron Norrie defeated Harris in four sets in the second round of Roland Garros. Thus, despite not proving to be the best part of his 2021 season, I believe that Harris has potential to play well on clay in 2022.
Untapped Potential on Grass
Harris began the grass court season in Stuttgart, recording a straight sets win over Gilles Simon in the opening round. However, Felix Auger Aliassime defeated the South African in the second round, in a closely contested second round match. Despite putting up better serving numbers than the Canadian, Harris failed to convert break point chances, only managing to win 1/10 break points in the match. However, at the ATP 500 event in Halle, Harris reached his first tour quarterfinal since Dubai, recording wins over 8th seed Gael Monfils and Lukas Lacko. Against the latter, Harris only faced one break point on his serve.
Nikoloz Basilashvili defeated the South African in the quarterfinals, with the Georgian proving to more effective than Harris on the return of serve. The South African elected to play in the inaugural ATP Mallorca Open, an ATP 250 event being played the week before Wimbledon. Unfortunately, the South African played his worst match of the season in an opening round defeat to Corentin Moutet. The Serve that had been so solid for Harris throughout the season, was not up to its usual high standards. The South African’s first serve percentage resided at 58% and he was only able to win 45% on his second serve. At Wimbledon, Harris won his opening round against Ricardas Berankis in straight sets. However, in the second round the South African was unfortunate enough to run into Andrey Rublev, who played one of his most impressive matches of the season. The Russian won 84% of his first serve points and effectively attacked the Harris second serve. The South African only managed to create one break point opportunity of his own, which he managed to convert, however he was comfortably beaten in straight sets.
Overall, Harris showed glimpses of his grass court potential. However, it is fair to say that the South African has the potential to achieve deeper runs on the surface, providing he improves his return game.
Consistency in the U.S.
Lloyd Harris began his U.S. hard court season in Atlanta, where he lost in a tight three set opening round match against Jordan Thompson. Despite this inauspicious start to his US hard court campaign, Harris played far better the following week in Washington. After benefiting from a withdrawal from Tennys Sandgren in the opening round, Harris faced Rafael Nadal in the round of 16. The South African managed to defeat Nadal, thus recording the best win of his career so far, winning 6-4 1-6 6-4. Despite winning two less points in the match than Nadal, Harris was more clinical on the break points than the Spaniard, winning 2/3 compared to Nadal’s 2/6. Despite losing to Kei Nishikori in the quarterfinals, the win against Nadal proved that Harris can beat anyone on his day and that he will always be a threat, particularly on hard courts. At the Montreal Masters, Harris reached the last 16, defeating Brayden Schnur and Feliciano Lopez in straight sets, before narrowly losing in an epic three set match to Reilly Opelka. In Cincinnati, Harris defeated Yoshihito Nishioka in the opening round, before losing in straight sets to Alexander Zverev.
This consistency put Harris on the right track heading into the final Grand Slam of the year at Flushing Meadows. However, the South African was a handed a very difficult draw, much in keeping with the rest of his 2021 season. In the opening round, Harris faced Karen Khachanov, a match that would prove to be one of the best of the tournament. After that five set epic, the South African defeated Ernesto Escobedo and Denis Shapovalov in straight sets. Against the Canadian, Harris was more clinical on break point opportunities and he also put up better serving numbers than his opponent. In the fourth round, Harris avenged his Montreal defeat to Opelka, prevailing in four sets, having dropped the opening set in a tiebreak. In defeating the American, Harris reached his first Grand Slam quarterfinal. The South African played Alexander Zverev, and put up a good effort in a 6-7 3-6 4-6 defeat. The success at the US Open proves that Harris can transfer his form from the ATP Tour into Grand Slam events over the best-of-five set format.
Harris ended his American Hard Court season by playing in San Diego and Indian Wells. In the former, he defeated American Christopher Eubanks, before falling to Diego Schwartzman. In Indian Wells, the South African defeated Alejandro Davidovich Fokina in the opening round, before losing a tight three set match against Casper Ruud, a match where he was unable to convert any of the eight break point chances that he had.
Harris ended the year by playing in two indoor events, Antwerp and Vienna. In the former, Harris continued the form he had shown in the US, by reaching the semifinals, recording wins over Zizou Bergs, Jan-Lennard Struff and Marton Fucsovics. In Vienna, Harris ended his 2021 season, losing in a tight straight sets defeat to Casper Ruud.
Lloyd Harris had a very good 2021 season, and it will be interesting to see how he fairs in 2022. I think he has the potential to win his first ATP Tour title this season, and continue to make consistent deep runs at the Grand Slams. Improvements have to be made to his return of serve, but if these are made, Harris will be even more of a threat in 2022.
Main Photo from Getty.