South African Lloyd Harris enjoyed the best season of his young career in 2019, breaking into the Top 100 of the ATP Rankings for the first time and reaching a career-best No. 82 in July.
The 22-year-old is in London during the Nitto ATP Finals attending ATP University, gaining valuable insight into the life that lay ahead of him on the ATP Tour.
“We’re learning more about the game, what happens behind the scenes, the media involved with that,” Harris said. “They’re teaching us about what to expect with life on Tour and life off the Tour. We’ve had some really interesting conversations and lectures so far.”
The group received a visit from former World No. 1 Carlos Moya, who is currently part of Rafael Nadal’s coaching team.
“We had Carlos Moya come to speak with us. [It was good to] just to get some insight into what the World No. 1 is doing post-match, before the match, after getting to the final of a Grand Slam,” Harris said. “You begin to think that these are things we should be picking up and putting into our routines as well. It’s small things from different categories that you can pick up and use.”
Harris will try to put those lessons to good use in the inaugural ATP Cup in January, in which he will represent South Africa as the second-ranked player from his country. Harris spoke to ATPTour.com about the new event, what’s most exciting about playing for a team, playing alongside Kevin Anderson and his childhood growing up in South Africa.
How excited are you to play at the ATP Cup?
From all the hype that is going on, it looks like it is going to be a fantastic event. I am sure anything of this calibre has to be great. It is a team event, that aspect is always fun.
I think the crowd is going to love it. It is going to be super-entertaining and I am looking forward to playing alongside some unbelievable players and against some good players. I think it is a great way to start the year.
What is exciting about playing as part of a team?
I think it is like a different energy. The whole year, you are competing for yourself and you have your team. But when you have your guys backing you up, sitting next to the court and cheering you on, you are not just playing for yourself.
If you win or lose a match, you are playing for them too. They also want to win and you want to go through to the next round. I think the atmosphere and vibe around that is just more fun and enjoyable for the players.
How cool is it that you will get to play alongside Kevin Anderson, who is one of the best players in the world?
He is an unbelievable player. Injury means nothing. He just hasn’t been able to play this year. It has been a really tough year for him. But I have spoken to him and he is positive. He is not down about it at all.
I think he is going to come back very strong next season. He is going to get his body fully ready and have a long time to prepare. He wants to come back in 2020 and be ready to crush it, so it is going to be unbelievable playing alongside him.
I know you have spent time with him before, but will it be nice to work with him to start the year?
I think it will be different. Practising with a person is one thing, but when you are sitting next to the court and maybe talking and analysing your matches a little bit more, then I can learn a lot from him. He has been in situations I haven’t been in. He has won titles. He has won so many matches in Grand Slams, reaching two finals. There is definitely a lot of knowledge I can pick up from him.
Growing up in South Africa, you were a bit too young to watch Wayne Ferreira and his generation, but was there a South African you would watch on TV?
No, not at all, to be honest. At the time I was growing up, from a reasonable age when I was watching tennis, there was no one playing. Kevin was the first one to come along again and it has been unbelievable to see his rise up the ranks.
It is a pity that I wasn’t able to see all the past guys, because we used to have so many good players, Top 100 players, just a couple of years before. Unfortunately, when I was growing up, they were already done.
What was it like growing up in South Africa? I read that you had a court right by where you lived growing up, what was that like for you?
I grew up in a tennis home. My mum played tennis, my dad played tennis and my sister started playing tennis. I am four years younger than her, so little me was sitting next to the court watching all of them play tennis. So what do I want to do? I want to play tennis, too. So I picked up the racquet really, really young and all I wanted to do was just play with them as well.
My mum asked the coaches, ‘Is he not too young? Can he start?’ I was not even three years old. There I was hitting balls already. The thing is, I enjoyed every second of it. I never had played too much.
I played all the other sports. South Africa is such a big sporting country, so you play rugby, you play cricket, you do athletics, you do swimming. I did all of that until I was 15 or 16. So that kept me excited for tennis and I kept on enjoying it. That was great. Back in South Africa, I was lucky enough to be in great schools and have all the facilities and stuff that I needed.
What is special about getting to represent your country?
You are representing your country all the time. You are playing with the flag beside your name. But in an event [like this]… it is just a different motivation. That makes you feel like you literally have the whole country behind you. Everybody is watching, whereas when you are playing individually, it is not the same.
I feel like [in a team environment] you have all the eyes on you and you want to make everyone happy. [You want to] entertain them, you want to get the win for South Africa and that makes it all the more special when you do get those wins.
What do you love about South Africa, as a country?
First of all, it has to be the beauty of the country. The beauty of the people. So many different cultures, so many amazing people. It is so different, all throughout the country, depending on where you are.
Even where I live, in Cape Town, there are so many different people and the pure beauty about it is special. The way it makes me feel is like, I am at home there. It is something I haven’t been able to feel somewhere else and I think it will have to stay my home for the rest of my life, probably. It is just a homely feel for me and everything about it is special.
Is there something that reminds you of home on the road?
There are certain foods and there are certain things that I will do back home that maybe remind me. The best times I have are mostly in England and America, you get a bunch of South Africans and they invite you to their house and we have a braai, which is a South African barbecue. Or you walk into a South African restaurant or a South African shop and they have all these things, which is crazy cool.
Another thing that reminds me of home is anything to do with rugby or cricket, wherever I might be. If I see something rugby or cricket related, I am thinking [about] those times I went to the stadiums and supported our teams.