When Kevin Anderson walked off the Wimbledon Centre Court in last Sunday’s final, he was evidently feeling a sense of disappointment and overwhelming fatigue. He had just lost to Serbian Novak Djokovic in straight sets 6-2 6-2 7-6 and was coming off the second longest Grand Slam match in the Open Era, when he beat John Isner in five sets, playing approximately six and a half hours.
“Going into the match I wasn’t feeling amazing physically, but I felt like I was okay in order to give myself a decent chance,” Anderson said.
“Unfortunately, I failed to discover my rhythm in the first two sets and the feeling of being comfortable out on the court eluded me early on in the match. It took me two sets to find form, but I thought I played a really good third set.”
With the recovery already underway from the marathon match he experienced in the semifinals, it is clear that the South African is inching closer to becoming a Grand Slam champion. He belongs in the top five of the ATP rankings, making a case that he is the best player in tennis that is not named Roger, Rafael, or Novak.
Kevin Anderson Credits Mental Strength for Success
Born in Johannesburg, South Africa, Anderson began playing tennis at the age of six. He was trying to become the first prominent South African tennis player since Kevin Curren, who was ranked fifth in the world in 1985.
Ten years ago, Anderson entered his first Grand Slam tournament. At the Australian Open, despite losing to Alejandro Falla in five sets, the South African showcased his talent and potential, rising to a career-high ranking at the time no. 190.
The pillar of Kevin’s game is his serve. He has one of the best first serves’ in all of tennis, making him a dangerous player to face against. Over his career, he has over 6,000 aces, a 65% first serve and has won 77% of his first serve points.
But in the early part of his career, Anderson underachieved. The best result at a Grand Slam before 2017 was a fourth-round appearance. Getting to his highest ranking in his career would only have been possible because of Kevin’s investment in mental preparation. He credits his Dad for teaching him the importance of the mental aspect when it comes to generating success on the court.
“My dad, Mike, who coached me when I was growing up, was big into the mental side of the sport. He always spoke about believing in yourself more than anything,” said Anderson.
Currently, the South African works with mental coach Alexis Castorri, who has also provided advice for Grand Slam winners Andy Murray and Simona Halep. According to Anderson, he puts more work into mental strength and visualization, which he credits to his recent success.
“Working with Alexis has been great. My focus is now on how I can become an even better mental competitor because that is what it really boils down to,” stated Anderson.
“It’s about being able to hit the ball really well in the big moments, regardless of who your opponent may be and what is going on out there. I feel I’m constantly getting better in that department and it’ll be a focus of mine going forward.”
Anderson Feels He Belongs in Conversation with Tennis’ Best
Anderson’s toughness and work ethic finally paid off last year at the US Open. He became the first South African to reach a US Open Final. While he would lose emphatically to Rafael Nadal in straight sets, it proved that Kevin was going to be a consistent contender at Major championships.
Flash forward to Wimbledon this year and Anderson had to win two five-set matches in order to reach his second Grand Slam Final. In the quarterfinals, he battled back from two sets to none down and a match point to dethrone the Swiss maestro on grass Roger Federer. The semifinal battle with Isner proved to be a test of inner will and attrition, with Anderson demonstrating to be the mentally tougher player of the two.
“You’re really in a war of attrition out there,” Anderson said. “It’s way beyond a normal tennis match or tactics. I mean, it’s just who’s going to, you know, outlast each other.”
While the final match against Djokovic did not go the way Anderson had hoped, it is safe to say the tennis world has begun to embrace the South African as one of the game’s best players. His legacy has grown with those two epic match wins en route to the Final and as a late bloomer to the sport, he is ready to continue fighting to win a Grand Slam.
“I still have to take a step further, as I have not yet won a Grand Slam title or made it through to the finals of the Masters Series,” Anderson stated.
“It’s definitely a big goal of mine and, once you put yourself in that position, it’s about how you can handle yourself and take the next step. I feel like I’m getting closer to doing that and there is a lot for me to still play for.”