'King' Harris takes tennis message to townships

Paris (AFP) –


Having supplanted Kevin Anderson as South Africa's number one, Lloyd Harris is a man on a mission - to take tennis to the football strongholds of his country's townships.

Harris, now at 90 in the world, won his opening match at Roland Garros for the second successive year on Tuesday, a comfortable 6-4, 6-4, 7-6 (9/7) victory over Alexei Popyrin of Australia.

Now the 23-year-old, fondly nicknamed 'The King' by his Davis Cup teammates, wants to use his higher profile for good in South Africa.

Recently, he and Anderson played a weekend exhibition in Soweto in front of a "couple of hundred of kids" most of whom are more acquainted with football, cricket or rugby.

"We made a weekend of it. They had their national school championships taking place and there were some top players there," said Cape Town-based Harris.

"We are trying to make an impact but it's a real challenge. The biggest part is that it's easy to get a football or a rugby ball.

"But these are under-privileged kids and a tennis racquet is expensive so there's a lot of work to do."

Harris is 11 years younger than Anderson whose career has been hit in the last 12 months by having to undergo two knee surgeries.

As a result, the former world number five, and two-time Grand Slam finalist, has seen his ranking plummet to 118.

"Kevin's a great guy, we talk most weeks, we are good friends now," said Harris. "He has reached the pinnacle of the sport and has been a great influence."

Harris got his nickname for his precocious talents when he joined South Africa's Davis Cup team.

"The other guys saw that even at 18 I was beating players who were 27, 28, so they called me 'The King'."

"All the guys in the team have nicknames." Tucker Vortser was 'Dragon', Nicolaas Scholtz is 'Shark' and Ray Klaasen was 'Fox'.

Harris will now attempt to make the third round of a Slam for the first time when he faces Italian seventh seed Matteo Berrettini who eased past Canada's Vasek Pospisil 6-3, 6-1, 6-3 on Tuesday.

Berrettini broke through at the US Open in 2019 when he became only the fourth Italian man to reach the semi-finals of a major.

"He's done incredibly well in the last couple of years. He's a tough player who has grown up on clay," said Harris who last year took a set off Roger Federer on Centre Court at Wimbledon before losing in four.

"But I have the ability to beat the top guys and I feel confident in my game."