Climbing the world tennis ladder

2008-04-02 00:00

When your goal for the year is to get into the world’s top 100 and you’re already at 122 going on 110 with eight months to go, you have to revise your thinking.

That’s exactly what South Africa’s Kevin Anderson is doing in the aftermath of downing Australian Open champion and world number three Novak Djokovic 7-6 (7/1) 3-6 6-4 in the second round of the Miami ATP Master Series.

The magnitude of the 21-year-old’s victory is that just over five months ago he was at 550 in the rankings, while last week none other than Roger Federer described the Serb as the best player in the world at the moment.

In a conference call from Miami on Tuesday, the Johannesburg-born Anderson said that going into the match the possibility of beating Djokovic — the winner of the first Masters Series title in Indian Wells just a few days before — had never really entered his mind.

"I was just excited and a little nervous at the prospect of playing him and was up for the experience, but as the match played out, I thought I was doing really well," Anderson said. "It was a tremendous match and I executed my game plan well."

Asked if the Serb was at his best, the former St Stithians schoolboy said it wasn’t easy for him to judge. "It’s kind of tough to answer that one as before I had only seen him on TV, but I do know he was fired up and aiming for number one in the world."

Djokovic’s comments on his website are also revealing. The two-metre tall Anderson, with the massive service delivery, made the world number three take notice.

"With that height you expect him not to move so well, but he obviously has good co-ordination and good feel for the ball," Djokovic said.

Another observation was that from the back of the court, the man who had to qualify was equal to Djokovic’s bombardment of ground strokes. Such was the near-perfection of Anderson’s ability to get the ball booming back at the Serb, sheer frustration forced the world number three into uncharacteristic error.

The comedown, a third-round defeat to number 31 seed Igor Andreev of Russia, who beat the new South African number one 6-4 6-7 (4/7) 6-4 didn’t seem to faze him.

"I was a bit flat in the first set, but I picked it up in the second, although my serve was better the match before. The conditions were more difficult: late at night, instead of the day."

Looking ahead after his recent success, which includes being the first South African in two years to reach an ATP final, one of Anderson’s new goals is not having to qualify at the remaining Grand Slams.

"I’m playing Davis Cup next up [SA are away to Finland] and it is something I have really been looking forward to," Anderson said. "After that it’s the clay court season, leading up to the French Open. I enjoy clay. My favourite hard court is a slow-ish one with high bounce, like clay."

Anderson was initially groomed in the dos and don’ts of the game by his father, Mike. With the fourth year left of his University of Illinois scholarship, where he excelled under the tutelage of Brad Dancer, Anderson took the pro plunge. His relationship with head coach Dancer is still close. "Brad still helps me, we gel very well personality-wise, but I am looking for a coach to travel with me full-time."

Asked by The Witness what he needs to work on, Anderson immediately revealed a frank appreciation of where he’s at. "Being taller, agility work and drills to increase foot speed are a priority, while to maintain technique from match to match in a tournament requires a tremendous level of fitness."

Post the Djokovic epic, there is a newfound confidence.

"Every time I walk on to the court now, I know I can beat my opponent. And I don’t have to do anything special, just play my natural game.

"I have spent my whole life aspiring to be the best, and now I am more motivated than ever."

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