Why were we not focused on Anderson’s Wimbledon endeavours?

2014-07-05 00:00

OVER the past two weeks, Wimbledon has rivalled the Fifa World Cup in terms of what commands the attention of the television viewer.

Yes, the World Cup only comes around once every four years, while the action at the All England Club is annual, but there is an aura that surrounds Wimbledon each year that is simply magical. However, not all would agree.

Most work colleagues have been far too occupied with what is going on in Brazil to share my enthusiasm of the epic battles that have been staged on Centre Court and its surrounds. This was highlighted on Monday night.

I sat at a sports bar with a colleague and a friend. We were watching Nigeria take on France in the last 16. It was a match with all of the potential in the world as the Nigerians displayed enough in the first half to suggest that they might pull off an upset that would keep Africa’s (if we discard Algeria) hopes in the tournament alive.

The catastrophe was that, at the same time, South Africa’s Kevin Anderson was taking on Andy Murray in Wimbledon’s fourth round — the first South African to get that far at Wimbledon in 14 years. I had watched Anderson being demolished in the first two sets before leaving the office, but I simply couldn’t concentrate on the football with the thought of how he was faring in the third set constantly lingering in the back of my mind. Eventually it got too much, and I persuaded a manager to turn one of the many TVs to the tennis.

So there I was, perched in a corner, surrounded by nobody, pulling my hair out watching Anderson come agonisingly close to pinching the third set off Murray. It wasn’t to be, but as I sat there, I began wondering why more South Africans weren’t caught up in Anderson’s endeavours. The obvious answer is that a World Cup trumps everything else, and that football is the world’s most popular sport while Wimbledon does not appeal to everybody.

But the fear is that it runs deeper than that. Many South Africans are only beginning to learn who Anderson is, despite him being a now permanent fixture in the world’s top 20. That is largely because he has been playing the majority of his tennis in the United States. The fact that he applied for U.S. citizenship in 2012 also doesn’t strengthen his case for South African support.

Then there is also Anderson’s continuous neglect of South Africa whenever Davis Cup duty comes around — a decision that has ruffled feathers in this country and raised further questions of his patriotism. Fair enough.

The opportunity to represent your country on the global stage should be an honour for anybody, regardless of the sport. But the more that I have been thinking about it, the more I have become accepting of his decision. Anderson hasn’t represented SA in the Davis Cup since 2011, but has not written it off in the future. He would be eligible to represent the U.S. in the Davis Cup in 2015, but he says that he would never consider that, because he remains South African.

It has been fantastic having a guy to support over the last two Grand Slams. So if missing out on Davis Cup to spend more time in the U.S. training is what Anderson feels will best facilitate his success at the Slams, then surely that is a sacrifice worth making and something that we as South Africans should support.

It may be selfish to say and hard for Team SA to digest, but I would rather have a local guy making waves at the Grand Slams than in a Euro/Africa Zone II Davis Cup meet. Tennis, like golf, is just not a sport that focuses on team play, but that doesn’t mean that we don’t throw our support behind the players representing our nation. It’s just a shame that, in the tennis world, Anderson is our only realistic hope for joy.

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