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Chasing The Grand Slam With Kevin Anderson

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Kevin Anderson had the biggest match of his career in the recent Wimbledon final, becoming the first male player to feature in the decider under the South African flag since 1921.
With over $13 million in career prize-money, he speaks to FORBES AFRICA about new goals.

South African Kevin Anderson’s run to the 2018 Wimbledon final cemented his reputation as one of the leading players in the game today as he produced a shot that reverberated around the world of tennis.

Deep into his remarkable five-set semi-final with American John Isner, Anderson conjured a moment that will be remembered at Wimbledon for years to come and embodied all you need to know about the lanky star as a person and a player.

The weary 32-year-old was knocked off his feet by a power serve from Isner, his racquet falling from his hand as he fell onto his backside.

But as the ball came back to him, he instinctively reached down and grabbed the racquet with his weaker left hand, produced an excellent forehand and won the point – a moment that appeared to knock the last bit of fight out of his opponent as Anderson claimed the fifth set 26-24 in the second longest singles match in tennis history.

Anderson had shown calmness under pressure, the ability to adapt when the moment seemed lost and the skill to make the shot with his weak hand.

“Tennis can take you places you might never have dreamed of. I am the living proof of that.”

It was all the culmination of hard work put in years earlier to get him to that point and would earn him the biggest match of his career in the Wimbledon final, the first male player to feature in the decider under the South African flag since 1921.

“My Mom and dad both played tennis and ever since I can remember, I had a racquet in my hand,” Anderson tells FORBES AFRICA days after his final loss to Serbian tennis player Novak Djokovic.

“I used to play swing-ball with my brother Greg for hours and hours.”

Anderson and his brother were coached in their early years by their father Mark, who always demanded his sons gave their all on the court.

“He would push us pretty hard to keep on working and improving, but at the same time, I really embraced it. I can’t ever remember wishing that I was doing anything else than playing tennis. I loved the game as an eight-year-old and still do.

“There is just something about the game that appeals to me and I have always been a hard-worker, that aspect comes quite naturally. From a young age, you find out that the more time you spend practicing, the better you become.

“By the time I was 10, tennis was my main sport and I was already fully-focused on the game, training probably three hours every day and traveling all over South Africa to play in junior tournaments.”

Fast forward 22-odd years and that hard work would pay off in a big way for Anderson against Isner.

“I had elbow surgery at a pretty young age and instead of resting for three or four months, my father made me play left-handed. It was tough, but I would never have thought then all of that practice would help me into a Wimbledon final.”

Anderson admired former American great Pete Sampras growing up, although he admits they are nothing alike.

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“He was my role model, our games are totally different but I could admire even then his commitment to excellence.”

After completing his schooling at St Stithians College in Johannesburg, whose other notable alumni include Academy Award-winning director Gavin Hood, singer Dave Matthews and current South Africa cricketer Kagiso Rabada, Anderson won a scholarship to the University of Illinois in the United States.

“I knew I wanted to have a pro-tennis career and so it made sense early on to base myself in the United States, because it was so much cheaper to travel to tournaments than from South Africa.

“I also thought I could develop quicker in the college system as you have exposure to better players than you would face back home,” Anderson says, adding he was a regular competitor with Isner while the pair were in college.

It was also at college that he met his wife, Kelsey O’Neal, who he married in 2011. The couple share a home in Delray Beach, Florida.

He now has over $13 million in career prize-money and a career-best top-five ranking, but above all says he also has a burning desire to be an inspiration to others.

“Tennis is an individual sport, so sometimes it is tough to find that connection [with young people]. But I feel like one of the big impacts I can make in South Africa is as an inspiration to show what is possible. With hard work, dedication and drive, tennis can take you places you might never have dreamed of. I am the living proof of that.”

Anderson will now hope to go one better than his loss in the final of the US Open in 2017, also to Djokovic, when he plays the final Grand Slam of the season in August and September, and his Wimbledon adventure has given him the confidence to believe he can do so.

“That is two Grand Slam finals in a year now and although I did not win either, it feels like it is really close,” he says.

“I know I can do it and it is now about setting new goals and challenges for myself.

“I want to keep on playing for as long as I can. I feel like I can still improve a lot as a player and that is my goal for the immediate future. I am as hungry as I’ve ever been.”

– Nick Said

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