Listening to coaches has paid off for South African Lloyd Harris, who fired 36 aces in winning Monday at the US Open and advancing to his first Grand Slam quarter-final.
His first coach steered him away from other sports to focus on tennis, his physical trainer pushed him to reach peak fitness during the Covid-19 pandemic and former player Xavier Malisse has fine tuned his skills since joining the team.
As a result, the 24-year-old from Cape Town is into the last eight at the US Open after defeating US 22nd seed Reilly Opelka 6-7 (6/8), 6-4, 6-1, 6-3.
Belgium's Malisse only made it so far once at a Slam in his whole career, reaching the 2002 Wimbledon semi-finals, but he has played a big role in 46th-ranked Harris's run.
"Xavier has been a huge influence in the team since he joined. He has so much experience, so much that I can learn from him," Harris said.
"He has been in these situations many times. He was obviously a phenomenal player. Now he can help me with my transition becoming a better player also.
"He has definitely had a huge impact. Right now we're just running on the momentum."
That momentum began during the virus shutdown, workouts preparing his body for future opportunity.
"It was not an easy time, the quarantine lockdown," Harris said. "Me and my physio, also my fitness trainer, we talked about it. I got in the best physical shape I've ever been.
"That's something I've lacked the last couple years, struggling with a few injuries, not always having the time to put in that physical work.
"I came into this season probably better prepared than ever because of that time I had in the lockdown."
That has helped him find his best game event after event.
"It has been a lot better season for me. I think one of the words you use there, much more consistent season," Harris said.
"It has just been better managing match after match, bringing the same quality, the same level of tennis.
"I always knew I had the ability, I had the level. I never had a problem beating some of the top guys. But it was consistently playing at that level,which was a little bit more challenging for me.
That's something I've done a lot better throughout this season. It's kind of showing right now. It's reflecting that I'm getting a lot more big wins consistently. I'm just happy with the progress I've made."
It all began when his coach, unrelated Anthony Harris, told his forget other sports and focus on tennis as a youth.
"I loved the team sports. In South Africa, sports is a huge thing," he said. "I got to compete more internationally in tennis where the other sports were more localized.
"Once I put my head down and decided I was going to play tennis, it was about 15-16, my coach said, listen, you got to play full-time.
"I was kind of like surprised. I didn't really know what it entailed," Harris said. "From that point on a lot of things changed."
Harris has drawn inspiration for his Grand Slam dreams from countryman Kevin Anderson, the 2017 US Open and 2018 Wimbledon runner-up.
"That gives you a lot of belief, being a South African, seeing that your countryman has done it," Harris said.
"He has definitely been an inspiration to a lot of kids also in South Africa. That's been nice. Hopefully I can also show them there's a pathway for more South Africans to come through."
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