4 April 2008
At 6ft 7ins, a tad over two metres, new South African tennis sensation Kevin Anderson knows what it is like to walk tall.
Suddenly, though, after beating world number three Novak Djokovic, right now the hottest property in world tennis, in the current Masters tournament in Miami, the 21-year-old Johannesburg-born giant has been elevated to a position where he has his head in the clouds.
“Yes it’s a stimulating and pleasing feeling to mingle with the greats of the game in the locker room and actually have them greet you when before they were only names that you worshipped from a distance,” said Anderson in a conference call from the United States.
Rapid rankings rise
Ranked 122nd in the ATP world ratings before the Miami tournament started – largely as a result of his runner-up finish in Las Vegas, which made him the first South African in two years to reach an ATP final – Kevin’s father, Mike Anderson, who has been a major influence in his son’s career, has calculated his Kevin will move up to approximately 110 next week. Not bad for the new South African number one, who was ranked 550th in the world little more than five months ago!
Ian Smith, the Chief Executive Officer of the South African Tennis Association, was full of praise for the youngster. “Kevin had an opportunity to test himself against some of the best players in the world at the recent SAA Tennis Open in East London. He is our most prized property at the moment and if he continues with such performances, we can expect much greater things,” he said.
Anderson believes he gained the stunning victory against Djokovic by raising the level of his game to new heights, which has given him confidence he could hold his own with the best in the world on the tennis court.
‘A learning curve’
He lost his next game in Miami against 32nd-ranked Russian Igor Andreev by a whisker in a tense three-set battle and says his new-found status made it “a little difficult” to concentrate and repeat the level he had reached against Djokovic. “But it was a good game,” he says, “and part of a learning curve for me. I’ve got no complaints with the way I played.”
He believes his tennis has improved immeasurably under the guidance of Illinois University coach Brad Dancer, under whom Anderson spent three years on a scholarship.
“Areas I’ve looked at improving,” explained Anderson, “are playing closer to the baseline, instead of further back, and progressing more often to the net as a variation to what is basically a groundstroke game.”
Because of his height, serving not unexpectedly is a forte of Anderson’s play, but unlike many of those who are as tall and taller, he generally plays from the back of the court.
He is looking forward to next week’s Davis Cup tie against Finland in Finland, and his meteoric emergence provides South Africa with fresh stimulus for what is expected to be a difficult tie – with the Finnish side including the 26th ranked Jarkko Nieminen.
Afterwards, Anderson has mapped out a programme as busy as that of any player, including Challenger events as well as other clay court tournaments on the main ATP circuit. His programme includes appearances in the three remaining grand slam events of the year after his 2008 fairytale began when he qualified for the Australian Open main draw in January.
“I’m still in a position where I might have to qualify for some of these tournaments,” he said, “but I have no points to drop from last year and there is a good chance my ranking can improve further.”
Anderson left St Stithians School in Johannesburg, where he was also an above-average cricket and soccer player, to finish his matric via private studies so that he could concentrate on a tennis career. Now, a short time later, that decision is paying dividends in a big way!