Kevin Anderson: Standing tall, aiming high
Tall, a tad too tall, for a tennis player, Kevin Anderson ambled around the tennis courts of the Balewadi Sports Complex, fulfilling sponsor and media commitments, before kicking off his campaign at the Tata Open Maharashtra in Pune from 1 January. Inevitably, the South African had to bend down at each doorway before heading in and, at 6ft, 8 inches, stood a head taller than most people in the room.
“Most of the time I’m fine,” says the 31-year-old Anderson. “Travelling takes a toll on my body, the first day is usually the recovery day. When I was younger, I was able to train a bit harder after I arrived. But now it takes me a few days. Not necessarily from a jet lag but it’s just the body takes longer to recover.”
Competing in the country for the first time (the ATP World Tour 250 event shifted from Chennai to Pune this year), Anderson was the source of much excitement for tennis fans.
The South African serve machine delivered: he hit a tournament-high 75 aces, including the fastest at 226 kmph, in his four matches here. Though Anderson lost the final to Gilles Simon on 6 January, he showed that his main weapon was sharpened, firing well and potentially destructive in the coming season.
Last year, Anderson had scripted one of his career highs. In the most stunning runs at the majors in recent years, the South African made it all the way to the final of the 2017 US Open. He was, at once, the tallest Slam finalist and the lowest ranked man (No.32) to feature in the US Open summit clash since the ATP rankings came into place in 1973.
“I knew if I could get healthy I had a shot,” says Anderson. “Before the tournament we sat down and came up with some goals, and one of my coaches said, his goal for me was to win the US Open. He truly believed it. I definitely knew that I was good enough to make it there. A lot of things have to go your way: you have to play good tennis, play good tennis at the right moment. You have to deal with a variety of different opponents and I was able to do that well.”
With Andy Murray pulling out of the tournament, Anderson’s half of the draw had opened up. The South African made most of the opportunity, beating players like Borna Coric, Sam Querrey—whom he had lost to in five sets at Wimbledon that year—and the in-form Spaniard Pablo Carreno Busta in the semi-final.
“I was able to prove to myself I can handle those moments. What it feels like competing at that level. Before, you just sort of imagine what it’s like, now I was actually living and breathing it,” says Anderson, whose previous best in majors was a quarter-final finish at the 2015 US Open.
Despite his loss to Rafael Nadal in the final, it had been an incredible comeback. Anderson had suffered from a spate of injuries in 2016, retired from two matches and pulled out of nine events in the calendar. He had spent the start of 2017 nursing a hip injury, even contemplating surgery.
“There were definitely a few times when I was frustrated,” recalls Anderson. “But I have a terrific team who keep pushing me and telling me to trust myself, my abilities.” In 2017, Anderson also added sports psychologist Alexis Castorri to his team to get over the mental hurdles and become more emotionally expressive on court. He was ranked No.80 in January 2017; a year on, he’s back knocking on the doors of the top 10 (currently ranked 11 in the world).
He is once again setting new goals to achieve: winning an ATP 500 event, making it to the season-ending ATP World Tour Finals and perhaps even going all the way to a Grand Slam title. His age isn’t a barrier anymore, given that the current lot of players are being able to extend their careers well into their 30s.
“It all comes down to keeping your body healthy,” Anderson says. “Still working hard, but the amount of time I spend on court is less than it was 5-10 years ago. I spend more time off the court in terms of recovery and rehabilitation. I am scheduling a little bit smarter: when to train, how hard to push myself. I always had the feeling that I constantly have to keep working harder and harder, but now I think I have done the work and I can rely on my ability and skills some more.”
With 2018 looking full of promises, Anderson is ready to stand tall and be noticed.
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