From down and out to Wimbledon main draw

After a long injury-laden hiatus, South Africa’s Lloyd Harris is feeling healthy, positive and excited at the prospect of playing in his first round at Wimbledon, which starts on Monday, 1 July.

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Lloyd Harris has much to be buoyant about.

He kicked off the start of the British grass season by winning the Surbiton Trophy tournament on 9 June.

Weeks later, his successful run in the Wimbledon qualifying tournament, secured him a first round Wimbledon appearance on Monday.

‘Excited at playing in a grand slam’

Things are finally back on track.

On the weekend before the start of The Championships, Wimbledon, Harris was excited at the prospect of playing in a grand slam after a series of injuries and major wrist surgery kept him out of action for eight months.

The Cape Town-born player spoke of his career trajectory to date, from Futures tournaments, followed by a year and a half on the Challengers tour, eventually working his way up to be the top of his game.

But a series of injuries halted his success, culminating in major wrist surgery, which could have resulted in retirement.

At his pre-Wimbledon press conference this weekend, Harris said: “I worked my way up year by year to the top of the game, had good success but unfortunately got injured when I was at my best. It’s been a tough journey back after missing eight months, a lot of other injuries occurred also, so that’s been really tricky, but I’m healthy now and enjoying and starting to play good, so I’m happy with that”.

Lloyd Harris had wrist surgery

But it’s hard to come back from a hiatus in any sport, let alone one that has involved multiple injuries.

Harris acknowledged that his wrist surgery could have been career-ending, as he faced the uncertainty of whether he’d be able to play at the same level again.

The surgery was to fix a tear to his triangular fibrocartilage complex (TFCC) – a ligament in his wrist, which Harris explained, had to be repaired and put back together, involving a lengthy rehab: “With the wrist you never know how it’s going to heal, or if it’s going to be 100%, because you’re working with so many nerves, but ultimately I healed from it.” 

He was grateful “to be fully recovered, and from that it is massive and I’m only looking forward from here”.

Thankfully, things have continued to improve: “It’s the best I’ve felt in the last two and a half, three years, I’m in a very good place mentally and physically. My tennis is feeling good, and I feel like I’m playing a high level. It’s good to be back in the main draw of a grand slam, competing against the highest level where I want to be, and where I have been in the past, so I’m excited to get back to that and earn and work my way back to the top.”

‘100% happy coming back to Wimbledon’

Harris considered what Wimbledon meant to him, as he looked towards playing on Day 1 on Monday.

He spoke about how it had special memories for him since childhood: “100% so happy coming back to Wimbledon”.

But the path to Wimbledon hasn’t been easy.

His biggest test, both mentally and physically, was having to transition from playing the best of three sets in the first two rounds of the qualifying, to the best of five sets in the final round.

“It’s a difficult transition, because the first two matches you play best out of three sets, and then all of a sudden the next day you’ve got to play the best of five, so it’s a bit of a mental and physical transition, as my match was three hours – so a lot longer, a lot more physical, so it’s a good test, I felt good in the match, and after, so it’s good signs for me that give me a lot of belief going into this first round, so I have one of those already under the belt now, I’ve had a few days to recover, I’ll practice again and build up now, so that definitely is a good feeling taking it into a main draw”.

Whilst the transition to play a five setter was “tricky”, Harris said that it made the success all the more special, as “I earned my way to be playing here, so I’m very relieved but also very excited at the same time”.

‘Use to my advantage’

Harris’s first round opponent on Monday is Alex Michelsen of the USA, ranked No 62.

The two have previously faced each other in 2023 at the ATP Mallorca tournament, when Harris won the qualifying round against Michelsen.

At the prospect of playing Michelsen, Harris replied: “We’ve played before, so I know his game a little bit, but I know that the first round of a grand slam is always a bit tricky. I’ve been fortunate enough to have a lot of time on the grass this year, so that’s nice coming in with a lot of matches, a lot of preparation, so I’m feeling positive, happy, excited and physically good.”

He acknowledged that his advantage over his opponent, was experience, having played in more grand slams and five set matches: “It’s different now being the more experienced player amongst some of the younger players around, so it’s nice to have that advantage – something I can definitely use if the matches go longer, or you get those big moments, I’ll try and use that to my advantage”.

Asked what he was planning to do before his first round match, Harris replied: “I’ll have an easy practice, I’ve already finished my day today, which a harder day today, which included a bit more training, more time spent, but tomorrow will be just an easy hit, a lot of preparations on the body and just getting focused and zone in on the match”.

Lloyd Harris is scheduled to play Alex Michelsen on Court 9 at Wimbledon on Monday, 1 July.

Amisha Savani is reporting from the All England Lawn Tennis Club, Wimbledon exclusively for The South African website

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