Sport

TENNIS

Impressive SA star Lloyd Harris to face Olympic champion Alexander Zverev in US Open quarterfinals

Impressive SA star Lloyd Harris to face Olympic champion Alexander Zverev in US Open quarterfinals
Lloyd Harris reacts after defeating Reilly Opelka of the US in their fourth-round match at the US Open in Flushing Meadows, New York on 6 September 2021. (Photo: EPA-EFE/JUSTIN LANE)

South Africa’s Lloyd Harris moved into the last eight of the US Open, the season’s final grand slam, where he will meet No 3 seed Alexander Zverev.

Lloyd Harris has come a long way from the windswept courts at the Green Point tennis club where he started hitting balls, as he is finally fulfilling his immense talent.

On Monday night Harris dismantled the giant 2.11m American Reilly Opelka in four sets, 6-7 (6), 6-4, 6-1, 6-3, to advance to the quarterfinals of the 2021 US Open.

Opelka had beaten Harris just two weeks earlier, in the third round of the Toronto Open, but the 24-year-old South African would not be denied this time.

Opelka, unsurprisingly considering his massive frame, is the biggest server on tour. Although it took Harris a while to work out his thunderbolts, by the third and fourth sets the American was a beaten man.

Harris not only handled Opelka’s biggest weapon comfortably, he delivered a serving masterclass of his own. Harris sent down 36 aces, had a 76% first-serve ratio across the match and won 92% of points (70 of 76) behind his first serve.

Harris was the dominant server on court and it clearly sapped Opelka’s confidence. In all, Harris broke Opelka’s serve six times, an almost unheard of stat against the biggest server in tennis.

Harris hit 62 winners against only 19 unforced errors and at one stage between the end of the second set and into the third set, he reeled off seven straight games.

Rasping winners 

Harris’s serve was mesmerising but so were his groundstrokes as he fired rasping cross-court winners from either wing. Even though Harris lost a first-set tiebreak, he was the stronger player throughout the match.

Lloyd Harris returns against big-serving Reilly Opelka of the US in their round of 16 US Open match at the USTA National Tennis Center in the Flushing neighbourhood of Queens, New York City on 6 September 2021. (Photo: Al Bello/Getty Images)

“It was difficult because he played a superb tiebreaker. I think he came up with some crazy-good points,” Harris said after the match. “I just had to keep my head in the game.”

In the second set, Opelka saved three more break points from love-40 down at 1-2. But with Opelka serving at 4-5, Harris broke through with a backhand pass to even the match.

From there, he ran away with their second head-to-head meeting, winning the next seven games in a row as he returned more of Opelka’s serves. For the match, Harris put 50% of Opelka’s first serves in play.

“I just had to mix up my return position, stay further back, come in, try to give him some different looks, and it seems like it paid off,” Harris said.

“I thought I played a really good first set, returning well. Throughout the match I served really well and after that first set not going my way, I stayed confident and what an unbelievable feeling this is. The support has been amazing.”

The stands at Flushing Meadows were packed with fans in replica Springbok jerseys as a sign of support for the South African. Some of those replicas were older than Harris himself, dating as far back as the 1995 World Cup-winning team, but the Capetonian enjoyed all the support.

And he’ll need them to come out again when he faces the excellent Zverev for a place in the semifinals where the winner will come up against either world No 1 Novak Djokovic or No 8 seed Matteo Berrettini. Those two meet in a repeat of the 2021 Wimbledon final.

Zverev in quarters

But first things first for Harris, who is clearly an underdog, but also one of the feel-good stories of the tournament. His style of play, with a powerful and accurate serve, light movement and powerful groundstrokes, has thrilled fans. As the tournament has gone on, Harris’s confidence has also grown.

Harris’s trajectory has been on a steady upward curve. He first broke into the world’s top 100 in early 2020 and came into the US Open as the 46th-ranked player in the world.

He made his first ATP final in Dubai earlier this year and recently beat Rafa Nadal on his way to a quarterfinal berth at the Washington Open. In the third round at the US Open he dispatched world No 10 Denis Shapovalov in straight sets and beat Olympic silver medallist Karen Khachanov in the first round at Flushing Meadows.

“It was difficult because he played a superb tiebreak in the first set,” Harris added. “I had to keep my head up as I knew I was playing well and at least I managed to turn it around. I tried to make as many returns as possible, which is not easy when the serves are coming at 135mph (220km/h). I just had to mix up my return position and it seemed like it paid off.”

Zverev is on a 15-match winning streak going back to his gold-medal run at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics. The German brushed aside talented young Italian Jannik Sinner in straight sets in his fourth-round match and doesn’t seem to be troubled by more revelations and allegations of domestic abuse by his ex-girlfriend.

The accusations have followed Zverev since November 2020 when Olga (also spelled Olya) Sharypova – first on Instagram followed by an article published by The Racquet – accused the German player of physical and psychological abuse.

Lloyd Harris acknowledges the crowd after defeating American Reilly Opelka in the fourth round of the US Open at the USTA National Tennis Center in Flushing Meadows, New York, on 6 September 2021. (Photo: EPA-EFE/JUSTIN LANE)

Last week, Slate.com published further revelations as told to writer Ben Rothenberg, who penned the original piece. Rothenberg has subsequently interviewed Sharypova several more times, in various locations over 10 months to piece together another lengthy article on Slate.com.

Zverev plans to sue Sharypova for defamation as a result of the latest revelations.

“I have engaged my German and American lawyers in the matter. They have already obtained a preliminary injunction against the source and the author who published the false allegations,” Zverev said.

“The court followed our arguments and states the accusations aroused are defamatory and false. The lawyers have therefore initiated further proceedings against the source and the author.

“I categorically and unequivocally deny having abused Olya.”

Zverev also backed an idea by the ATP Tour to create a domestic violence policy similar to those used in some team sports leagues.

“I also fully support the creation of an ATP domestic violence policy,” tweeted Zverev, who closed by saying: “I will not address this matter any further.” DM

Gallery

Comments - Please in order to comment.

Please peer review 3 community comments before your comment can be posted

A South African Hero: You

There’s a 99.7% chance that this isn’t for you. Only 0.3% of our readers have responded to this call for action.

Those 0.3% of our readers are our hidden heroes, who are fuelling our work and impacting the lives of every South African in doing so. They’re the people who contribute to keep Daily Maverick free for all, including you.

The equation is quite simple: the more members we have, the more reporting and investigations we can do, and the greater the impact on the country.

Be part of that 0.3%. Be a Maverick. Be a Maverick Insider.

Support Daily Maverick→
Payment options

MavericKids vol 3

How can a child learn to read if they don't have a book?

81% of South African children aged 10 can't read for meaning. You can help by pre-ordering a copy of MavericKids.

For every copy sold we will donate a copy to Gift of The Givers for children in need of reading support.