Nate Chura & Ben Raby | Citi Open Tennis
The Citi Open is suddenly wide open. After a slew of upsets in the second and third rounds, the final berth in the quarterfinals was secured last night when South African world No. 50 Lloyd Harris stunned 20-time Grand Slam champion Rafael Nadal before another packed crowd on Stadium Court.
The 24-year-old Cape Town native came out firing from his very first shot and went on to score the biggest win of his career over the Spanish great, 6-4, 1-6, 6-4, to reach the final-eight of the 2021 Citi Open.
Nadal overcame a lingering foot injury on Wednesday night to beat American Jack Sock in an epic final-set tiebreak in front of a record crowd, but the South African would not allow the top seed to work his magic again. It was a sober warning that no tennis player is safe in Washington, no matter how many major titles they may have won.
"Today was really special," said Harris, after the monumental victory. "I think I have had some big wins, and this year I have beat some Grand Slam champions, but to beat a 20-time Grand Slam champion, and especially in front of a full crowd and with such an amazing atmosphere, it was definitely something very special."
The pain did not impact Nadal’s fighting spirit — and the Spaniard said he felt better against Harris — but it was not enough to topple the South African. The world No. 50 improved to 2-5 against Top-10 opponents, after two hours and 11 minutes.
"I did a lot of good things," Harris said. "I think the best thing was to stay in the moment, keep my composure, and I think I just stayed with my game and stayed playing a consistently good level throughout the match. It was a good, quality match, I think. Not easy for me out there. It was pretty physical, but all in all, I'm just super happy with how everything turned out."
DC tennis fans came out in full force for the Spaniard. As the top seed won critical points, roars echoed from the stands and many Nadal supporters leapt to their feet. But they were fair to Harris as well, especially when the unseeded right-hander hit a stunning lob on match point to complete his victory.
Harris showed no fear early in his first clash against the 88-time titlist. The South African held his ground on the baseline and went hard and flat to Nadal’s forehand, pushing the lefty back as he continued to fire away.
The 20-time major winner has become known for his unrelenting offense and ability to control play with his forehand, but stunningly, Harris hit nine forehand winners to just two for the Mallorcan in the opener, seizing the only break of the set to take the lead.
But Nadal claimed the momentum in the second, breaking for a 3-1 lead with a curler down the line. The lefty took a quick skip and unleashed a massive “Vamos!” as the fans roared. From there, he began to play more aggressively and cruised through the rest of the set, while Harris fell further behind the baseline.
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The third set, however, became a battle of wills. Nadal did not want to give ground, but Harris was unafraid of the moment and went after his shots to put pressure on the top seed. Screams of “Vamos!” became more frequent from Nadal as he attempted to claw through.
But on his first break point of the decider, Harris did not panic when a Nadal shot bounced off the top of the net. Although he was unable to put away the passing shot, he curled a lob on the next ball over a helpless Nadal’s head.
Next up, Harris faces 2015 champion Kei Nishikori tonight at 7 p.m. Nishikori prevailed in a three-setter of his own, beating British rising star and No. 7 seed Cam Norrie, 3-6, 6-3, 6-3, in the Round of 16. Harris beat Nishikori in three sets in their only prior meeting earlier this year in the quarterfinals of Dubai.
"It's going to be a very tough battle and I think a very different game style than I faced today," Harris said. "It's going to be a new challenge and I look forward to it."