Picture an opponent, 24m away, thrashing luminescent yellow spheres at you from over 3m up, so viciously the cracking sound is almost indistinguishable from the sonic boom of a gunshot. That’s what tennis ace Kevin Anderson’s opponents have to deal with.
Scarier still, his immense physique and power hitting are not the Illinois-based Anderson’s greatest weapons. Plenty of big guys can hit rockets when they’re on form. Anderson’s mind is what has earned him two ATP Tour titles and a career-high ranking in the world’s top 30.
“The mental side is so important, but I don’t know many people who actually work on it,” he says. Even as a junior, where on-court tantrums and self-destructive thoughts are a staple, Anderson maintained an unbreakable focus and unspoken confidence that impressed more than just his coach.
Following his schooling in Johannesburg, Anderson accepted a scholarship to the University of Illinois where, for three consecutive years, he received the highest accolade in US college sports: All-American honours. With nothing more to prove on the amateur stage, he cut his studies short and joined the pro tour in 2007.
Anderson’s calculated improvements were punctuated in 2008 with a win over Novak Djokovic — his first top-10 scalp — at the Sony Ericsson Open in Key Biscayne, Florida. The meteoric rise this might have indicated was slow to kick in, but promising showings at big tournaments did follow. Ironically, Anderson captured his first ATP title at the South African Open in 2011, just up the road from where he grew up in northern Jo’burg.
Despite recent victories over the likes of Andy Roddick and John Isner, Anderson has lost all four encounters with Djokovic since that win four years ago. But when asked whether he’ll ever repeat that initial success, he answers with characteristic resolve: “Don’t worry, there’ll be lots more of those.”
— Ian Macleod