It has been quite the year for the #NextGenATP contingent on the ATP Challenger Tour. On Sunday, the stars of tomorrow captured a pair of titles, bringing the 2018 total to 14 different winners.
In Lexington, Kentucky, 21-year-old Lloyd Harris not only celebrated his maiden crown, but joined an exclusive club of South Africans who have lifted Challenger trophies in recent years. Harris became the first to do so since Rik De Voest in 2013 and the youngest from his country since Kevin Anderson in 2007.
The Cape Town native capped an impressive week that saw him not drop a set en route to the title. He defeated Stefano Napolitano 6-4, 6-3 in Sunday’s championship, rising 47 spots to a career-high No. 161 in the ATP Rankings. Harris is now the second-highest ranked South African, behind only Anderson.
Harris spoke to broadcaster Mike Cation following Sunday’s final…
Lloyd, it’s a big moment for you and a big moment for your country as well. You went down an early break in the first set. What changed after those first few games? You rattled off six straight after that.
Yeah, I went down an early break and was a little upset with myself. But I looked at my coach and decided that I need to just get back out there and get back to my game plan. I felt like I really started to play more aggressive from that point on. I went after the shots and tried to move forward a little bit more.
I got excited, pumped up and motivated more. I was competing for every point and didn’t give any free ones away. Just getting my first serves up and trying to increase that percentage. I really found my game then.
I remember when you lost that break point in the first set, you were well behind the baseline. From then on, you tried to take that baseline away from him. Was that the gameplan?
Yeah, I feel like in the first few games, that’s what he was doing well. He was standing on the baseline and I was drifting further and further back. Especially if you’re break point down, you can’t be doing that and he took the initiative to me. Then, I was thinking that I needed to be doing that, otherwise the match would just drift away from me. That mentality really helped me on my serve as well, to get more into the court and start moving well too.
You said to me on Monday that you had a different mindset this week. You had a difficult 6-1, 6-2 loss to Marcel Granollers in Binghamton, so how did you turn it around in that regard in just a few days?
I wasn’t feeling my best out there, but I really started focusing on working hard. On and off the court, it was fitness and tennis. I kept on working on my game and kept on improving, even playing some doubles matches. And I was more positive on the court and fighting and working hard for every point. Those were a few key areas that helped me turn it around this week.
2018 #NextGenATP First-Time Winners: Molleker | Polmans | Hurkacz | Rodionov | De Minaur | Martinez | Clarke
It’s rare at this level to have a coach travel with you every week. What did it mean to have your coach here in Lexington?
It was definitely great for me to have him here. First time he traveled with me to the U.S. and I was just really happy. To have someone in my corner and get excited with and help take control of what I wanted to do. It meant a lot for us.
You don’t have the opportunity to benefit from wild cards in South Africa, to get your ATP Ranking up. But here you are, up to No. 161. Do you feel like you have to work a little bit harder in that sense?
I feel like it’s a longer process, because I’m not able to get into ATP World Tour or Challenger events right from the start. I need to go through the whole process and build my way up, through the Futures and now the Challengers. It’s been a long road already. I feel like I’m progressing and starting to find my game. Hoping to take it to the next level now.
Obviously what Kevin Anderson has done at the higher level means a lot to your country. What do you think this moment means for South African tennis?
What he has done is remarkable, getting to No. 5 in the world. Reaching two Grand Slam finals is something special. Our country needs even more players coming up. It’s not a great tennis country if it doesn’t have multiple guys doing well on the tour. I think it’s very good for the country to have another player coming through the ranks. Hopefully we can motivate others to do better as well.
It’s a very interesting transition, winning your first title and moving on to the next tournament. On top of that, you’re going cross country to Aptos, California. Conditions are much cooler there. How do you turn around for your match on Tuesday?
I mean, it’s very difficult as you say. But now it’s about recovering and getting my body right. That’s the most important thing. Tomorrow is going to have to be a travel day. I’ll have an early morning. I’m going to prepare my best. Tuesday might be my first time on the courts and I’ll have to adapt to the situation and use my confidence to fight through it.
How do you celebrate?
How do I celebrate? [laughs]. I haven’t thought about that. It’s still a bit early for that. I’ll definitely go celebrate a little tonight, but I need to stay focused for my next match in two days. A quick celebration and then it’s back to work.