Cape Town - In an exclusive interview, South African tennis ace KEVIN ANDERSON talks about his dream run at Wimbledon, if he is improving with age and the current state of South African tennis.
Sport24 asked: How would you sum up your magical fortnight at Wimbledon?
Kevin Anderson: It was an incredibly special and hard-fought two weeks. There are so many positives and great memories I will take with me from Wimbledon 2018. It was always part of the dream to play in a Wimbledon final. It means so much for me to have played in the championship match. The final against Novak Djokovic last Sunday obviously didn’t go the way I wanted it to, but giving myself the opportunity to play in it was a great stepping stone. Along the way, I achieved the milestone of playing in the Wimbledon quarter-finals for the first time, having beaten Gael Monfils in four close sets in the round of 16. Coming into the week, my first goal was to make it through the fourth round - I had been there a few times before, but never to the quarter-finals. My second week at Wimbledon was a whirlwind of events. It was a combination of playing long matches and then recovering as much as possible and getting ready for the next matches against some of the best players in our sport. Beating Roger Federer is a match I will remember for years to come. All my respect to him. Federer is arguably the greatest player to have ever played our sport, so beating him at Wimbledon was really special. And my marathon duel against John Isner, which put me in the final, was a crazy match and is definitely one for the memory bank. John is an incredible sportsman and friend and it was an honour to share that piece of history with him. (The six hour, 36 minute contest is the second-longest Grand Slam singles match ever to be played).
Sport24 asked: Is the world of tennis experiencing the Benjamin Button effect?
Kevin Anderson: For the first time in the Open era, all four men’s singles semi-finalists at Wimbledon were over 30 years of age. Potentially we are getting better with age. There are a lot of men playing great tennis well into their thirties. The whole dynamic has definitely changed. A decade ago, players reaching the age of 30 were sort of coming to the end of their professional careers. The perspective has completely changed and you could say that 35 is the new 30. Federer is 36 and is playing his best tennis, and there is no reason I can’t still play my best tennis for years to come. (Anderson is 32). Having the right outlook is important - people say that at this level (of professional competition) it’s mostly mental - but you have to take care of your body as well. It’s most important, especially as you get older. The work I do with my physiotherapist has been instrumental in keeping me healthy and it’s a big reason why I’m able to continue to improve my game. Which is why moving forward, my primary focus is on putting my body first, as I would like to stay fit and healthy.
Sport24 asked: What is your assessment of the South African tennis landscape?
Kevin Anderson: It’s obviously no secret that it has been a bit tough for tennis in South Africa over the last few years. There haven’t been that many players, both men and women, from South Africa breaking through on the pro level. It’s not easy because you have to really start playing tennis at a young age and be exposed to the right competitions and other players from around the world. There are no guarantees in tennis, which is a very individualistic sport. However, in the last while, I think things are changing within SA tennis. I have spoken with the new CEO of Tennis South Africa, Richard Glover, who took over a couple years ago. (Glover has a plethora of experience in the sports industry, both locally and abroad, having spent time at both Arsenal Football Club in the United Kingdom and Cricket South Africa). I believe he has brought in a different approach and is very passionate about it all. He has also done a great job harnessing all the past South African tennis players.
Sport24 asked: What impact has your American wife, Kelsey, had on your career?
Kevin Anderson: I have been married to Kelsey since 2011 and she has been a great partner. (Kevin and Kelsey met at the University of Illinois). She played golf herself at collegiate level, so her coming from a sporting background definitely helps a lot in terms of knowing the sacrifices and dedication required to succeed in sport. Off the court, we are able to travel the world together and trying to live a normal married life, while being on the road, is important. Kelsey also knows me better than anybody else and understands what it takes for me to play my best tennis. She has proved instrumental in terms of my career both on and off-court. There are always lots of ups and downs in professional sport and Kelsey helps me keep great perspective when I’m struggling with things. Another way of me winding down is playing the guitar. We spend some much time on the road and there is plenty of down time. It’s one of my biggest hobbies and it has actually turned into a passion. Playing the guitar is something that I really enjoy doing. It takes my mind of tennis and it relaxes me.
Sport24 asked: What lies in store for you on a playing front in the next few weeks?
Kevin Anderson: The tour now shifts from the grass to the hard courts. Having played on grass for a while, we are preparing our bodies for the hard courts. Grass courts are softer and easier on the joints, so it’s a little tricky moving to hard courts. The key when making the switch is taking your time and not doing too much too soon. From a baseline and return game perspective, I will make a few adjustments playing on the hard courts in the coming weeks because the ball bounces higher. There are the two Masters Series tournaments - Toronto and Cincinnati - leading up to the US Open, so it’s a very busy summer. It’s important for me to recover because I’ve played a lot of tennis over the last few weeks. That will be step one, and step two will be getting ready for the next tournament... Playing in the year-end ATP Finals is definitely a goal of mine. It’s been an aim since the start of the year and so far I’ve put myself in the mix. And, if I continue to play good tennis, odds are I will qualify... Reaching my highest-ever ATP ranking of fifth feels great. It was a goal I set myself a couple years ago. I reached the top 10 in 2015 and the next goal was to hit the top five. I had a bit of a hiccup in 2016, where I was injured for most of the year, so it took me a little bit longer to reach the top five in the world, but it definitely feels great having reached that goal. It’s another incredible milestone in my career and I’m happy to see all the hard work paying off. Now is the time for me to reassess and hopefully get my ranking up even higher.
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