Kevin Anderson is looking to follow up his breakthrough 2015 with an even better showing in the new season, which the South African will start in Abu Dhabi, facing Milos Raonic in the Mubadala World Tennis Championship on Thursday.
After cracking the top-10 for the first time in his career this year and reaching a maiden grand slam quarter-final at the US Open last September, Anderson is feeling more and more comfortable facing the game’s biggest stars and is hoping to continue threatening them in the future.
Speaking at Yas Marina Circuit on Tuesday ahead of his MWTC debut, Anderson explained the reasons behind his unprecedented success in 2015.
“I think it’s always working hard, continuing to look to get better,” said the 29-year-old.
“I feel like I’ve got a really good team with me that are constantly helping me strive for more and improve as a player. And also just
experience, being in those positions again, it’s a very fine line.
“The more I’ve been in that position, the more comfortable I get. I really feel like I’m at a point where being in those positions numerous times before I think will serve me well moving forward.”
Some of those positions were painful for Anderson, particularly his five-set defeat to Novak Djokovic at the Wimbledon fourth round in July, where he was leading the world No1 by two sets but couldn’t finish the job in a marathon encounter that spanned two days.
Djokovic called it “one of the most difficult matches I have played at Wimbledon in my career” and admitted he was at times “helpless” trying to return Anderson’s cannonball serves.
Anderson can’t deny it was a disappointing experience for him not to get the win but it was a match that taught him a lot.
“Obviously I played good tennis and put myself in a position to win the match. It was definitely disappointing not coming through. But definitely I learned, got more belief in my game and the kind of tennis I feel really comfortable playing, and how my game matches up against the best player in the world,” said the world No12.
“I feel like I had him on the ropes and that part definitely gives me confidence.”
That match, in a way, helped Anderson break his grand slam fourth round hoodoo shortly after at the US Open where he beat Andy Murray to reach his first major quarter-final on his eighth attempt.
“I definitely think (it helped) a little bit, just heading into that match a bit more calm and collected,” said Anderson.
“Also playing good tennis. I just felt I did a better job there sticking throughout the match, not giving him a chance to get back in, which I felt I let Novak do a little bit more in the third set. I needed to have raised my game a bit more. It was tough against Djokovic but I definitely felt I was able to take it one step further at the US Open.”
At 203cm, Anderson is one of the tallest players on tour and while height is an advantage when it comes to serve and hitting big groundstrokes, it can also be a hindrance to moving well on the court. But the Florida-based Anderson doesn’t feel being tall has held him back.
“Being tall, people have always looked at it as a negative – maybe it’s just a little bit tougher but it’s something that you can learn, that you can train. I think you see a lot more guys who are tall moving very well,” he explains.
“It’s something I work hard on. You definitely need a lot more strength, also a lot of rehab because your body is taking more stress and weight through the joints when you’re moving.”
Anderson and Raonic are two Abu Dhabi first-timers and are joined by Stan Wawrinka, Rafael Nadal, David Ferrer and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga at the MWTC this weekend, which serves as an unofficial curtain-raiser of the new tennis season.
“Everybody wants to do well at the beginning of the year, it’s a great opportunity to transition from practice mode and getting into tournament mode,” said Anderson.
Fans will get to witness two of the best servers of the game facing off tomorrow. Asked what makes Raonic’s serve so special, Anderson said:
“I think his biggest thing is just the pace, he brings in a lot of pace when he’s serving.
“He can hit his spots, he’s one of the best in the world. Playing someone with a big serve, you always want to stay patient, you won’t have too many looks but you just try to stick it in. Patience is probably the most important factor.”
2015 Davis Cup runners-up Belgium have concluded a six-day training camp with up-and-coming UAE players at Zayed Sports City in Abu Dhabi.
Thirty five highly-motivated juniors had the opportunity to learn from, and be inspired by the Belgians, as well as six top-200 players who accompanied the team during the session. The trip was facilitated by Belgium’s Hope and Spirit Foundation.
– INTERVIEW: Svitolina working hard on progress
Throughout December, world number 19 Elina Svitolina has been hitting at the tennis stadium, which will host the Mubadala World Tennis Championship later this week.
As the largest and most professional tennis complex in the city, Zayed Sports City has been central in the increasing popularity of the sport. The site includes nine courts, which are open to the public, and offers programs for men, women, juniors and children through PSS Tennis Academy.
Providing high-quality coaching and facilities, the site has more than 100 high performance youth athletes, including an NCAA Division I scholar.
Zayed Sports City developed the largest community tennis tournament in the region, the Abu Dhabi Wilson Tennis Cup, which will take place in March.
World number 109 Ruben Bemelmans commented on the facility: “The courts at Zayed Sports City are nice. For a player, you notice the court plays at perfect speed. The weather obviously is a plus, with perfect conditions to prepare for professional players who go to Australia. I think it is a perfect accommodations to prepare as a professional tennis player and to practice as a child here, especially with world-class coaches.”
Jo-Wilfried Tsonga rose to fame by virtue of his performance at the 2008 Australian Open where, as an unseeded player, he reached the final beating then World No.2 Rafael Nadal in the semifinals.
Since then the French powerhouse has firmly established himself on the world stage and now he is set to return to Abu Dhabi’s Mubadala World Tennis Championship for a fourth appearance in the capital.
The traditional curtain-raiser for the new tennis season takes place at the International Tennis Centre at Zayed Sports City between 31 December and 2 January, gathering sports fans for three days of spectacular tennis action with a star-studded line-up all ready to get their 2016 campaigns underway in emphatic fashion.
For Tsonga, it feels almost like coming home: “I love coming to Abu Dhabi and I was sad to miss out last year due to an unfortunate injury. The atmosphere is always amazing and it’s really competitive with such good players in the line-up every year.
"Hopefully I can get the new season off to a good start in Abu Dhabi and show the fans that I appreciate their support.”
Tsonga is no stranger to momentous sporting occasions, having won 12 career titles and represented his country both at the London 2012 Olympics and at the prestigious Davis Cup this year.
In Abu Dhabi the 30-year-old will join superstars Rafael Nadal, David Ferrer, Milos Raonic, Kevin Anderson and Stan Wawrinka.
The latter’s achievement from 2014, where the Swiss ace went on to win the Australian Open some 25 days after having competed in the Mubadala World Tennis Championship, is something which inspires Tsonga: “I think that just shows how important the Abu Dhabi tournament is.
"Whoever can find their form early enough will be off to a good start ahead of the season’s first Grand Slam tournament in Australia, and for me the Mubadala World Tennis Championship is a unique opportunity to get off to a flyer in 2016.”
Tennis fans across the UAE can expect some tantalizing showdowns during the three-day tennis championship in the capital, and already in the opening match there is a mouth-watering tie with Jo-WIlfried Tsonga facing David Ferrer.
The winner will have to overcome Rafael Nadal in the semi-final to go on for this chance to win the coveted Mubadala World Tennis Championship trophy and the $250,000 cash prize.