Though he remained composed after securing victory on Thursday, allowing himself only a glimmer of a smile with his arms raised briefly in triumph, Lloyd Harris made a massive career breakthrough at the Australian Open.
With two-time Grand Slam finalist Kevin Anderson having been eliminated in the first round earlier in the week, the weight of a nation was left resting on the shoulders of Harris, and the 23-year-old prospect did not disappoint.
Keeping South Africa’s hopes alive, he progressed beyond the second round of a Grand Slam tournament for the first time with a hard-fought victory over Australian wild card entry Alexei Popyrin.
Despite losing the second and fourth sets, the world No 91 held his nerve to earn a 6-2 1-6 6-3 6-7 6-3 win over Popyrin.
Harris, who reached the main draw of a Grand Slam for the first time at the 2018 US Open, has managed to find some consistency on the global circuit.
While Anderson, a former world number five, was struggling with persistent injuries, his younger compatriot progressed to the second round at three Grand Slam tournament over the last two years.
.@lloydharris63 goes the distance and pulls off the five setter ????
— #AusOpen (@AustralianOpen) February 11, 2021
In the absence of Anderson, who had made himself unavailable for the Davis Cup, Harris also established himself as the top-ranked player in the national team.
And though he didn’t show it with exuberant celebrations, his latest performance at Melbourne Park was another big step forward as he continued to climb the international ladder.
Following his victory over Popyrin, he will get another chance to shine this week when he faces American player Mackenzie McDonald in the third round.
Regardless of his next result, however, Harris has stuck up his hand as the ‘next big thing’ in South African tennis and Anderson will have to dig deep if he hopes to maintain his place on the mantle as the nation’s top player.