Anderson faces tough challenge in Aussie Open

Kevin Anderson (AP)
Kevin Anderson (AP)

The busy, bustling Australian Open, where prize money alone this year is approaching the A$50 million mark, is the only grand slam tennis event at which a South African has won a prized and monumental singles title.

And while 11th-seeded Kevin Anderson is ranked only as a rank outsider in this year's tournament which gets underway at Melbourne Park on Monday, to emulate Johan Kriek's title successes in 1981 and 1982, the gangling, 6-foot-8 South African will, at least, be aiming to reach a respected, points-accumulating fourth round for the fourth successive year.

It is a challenge, however, Anderson might approach with some misgivings, considering the fact that he has started 2016 in somewhat shaky fashion with early tournament defeats against Milos Raonic, Feliciano Lopez and Jack Sock - all players positioned below him in the world rankings.

What is more, a troublesome knee injury resulted in Anderson withdrawing from the Chennai Open in India last week, which, no doubt, further hampered his preparation for the glitzy Australian Open.

But Melbourne Park has been a relatively happy hunting ground for the South African and his lethal serve remains a weapon that cannot be discounted by even the tournament luminaries like defending champion and five times winner Novak Djokovic, Andy Murray, Roger Federer and the enigmatic, but potentially dazzling former title holder, Stan Wawrinka.

Anderson has, in the meantime, experienced a draw of mixed blessings for his campaign, with a first round match-up against doubles specialist Rajeev Ram and a game against a qualifier if he makes the second round.

But it could get a lot tougher for the South African if he goes through to the third round, with potential opponents of the calibre of France's colourful Gael Monfils and 14-times grand slam winner Rafael Nadal awaiting him in the third and fourth rounds.

Apart from Kriek, South Africa's most notable men's singles performers in the Australian Open in the open era are Kevin Curren, who reached the final in 1984 before going down in four tough sets to Sweden's multi-grand slam champion, Mats Wilander, and Wayne Ferreira, who made it through to the semi-finals in 1992 and 2003.

Joining this elite group's would, in all probability, earn for Anderson a return to a top 10 world ranking, which he occupied for the first time last year, but for what was only a single week.

While the days when South Africa could boast a fair number of men's and women's players in the main singles draws of the Australian Open are now a thing of the past, indomitable world 20th-ranked Raven Klaasen will be seeking to repeat his 2014 feat of reaching the finals of the men's doubles with Eric Butorac - but this time with a new partner.

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