Kevin Anderson is one victory from joining a select group of South African sports champions by capturing his first Grand Slam title in Sunday’s US Open final against top-ranked Rafael Nadal.
Golfing compatriots and major winners Charl Schwartzel and Louis Oosthuizen watched him win Friday on the New York hardcourts to reach the brink of a breakthrough win at 31.
“I’m trying really hard to be able to join their ranks,” Anderson said. “It was really nice that they came out and watched me.”
Anderson has history with four-time major golf champion Ernie Els and South Africa’s two-time Rugby World Cup championship side. “Just being on the road a lot, I know there are so many great South African sportsmen,” Anderson said.
“I haven’t been able to mix with too many. There have been times I was with the South African rugby team a few years ago. A lot of the golfers from South Africa live close to us [in Florida]. I’ve spent time with Ernie Els.”
Now he has a chance to claim a Slam trophy on the same Arthur Ashe Stadium court where boyhood idol Pete Sampras captured the last of his 14 major crowns in 2002.
“My biggest idol was Pete Sampras growing up and right behind him watching [compatriot and 15-time ATP champion] Wayne Ferreira growing up,” Anderson said. “From a South African standpoint, he was definitely somebody I looked up to.”
Anderson, the first South African in the US Open final since Cliff Drysdale in 1965 and the first in any Slam since Kevin Curren in 1984, won his three career ATP titles at the 2011 South Africa Open, 2012 Delray Beach Open and 2015 Winston-Salem Open.
His groundbreaking charge on the New York hardcourts came after a run to last month’s Washington final in a season where a hip injury forced major rehabilitation work to avoid surgery, causing him to miss January’s Australian Open.
“It took a lot of work, I mean several hours a day over almost two months,” said Anderson. “Even after that, another couple months of rehab. The biggest plus is when all the work you do really pays off.”
Anderson has also worked upon his mental skills after often finding his own faults. “Some of the challenges have been to trust my ability a little bit more. I have always been very critical about myself,” Anderson said.
“I feel like I’m just being a bit more patient with myself. I feel like that’s been a big change I have implemented in the last few months.” It has paid off in a fist-pumping style that bolsters his self-belief.
“I feel like it allows me to play better tennis,” Anderson said. “Everybody talks about how important the mental side is... when you’ve played a good point and sort of acknowledging that also has a lot of positive effect that increases your confidence level.”
He added, “It took me a little while, but as I’ve been playing more and more matches, it feels more and more comfortable. I feel like I’m putting more out there and I feel like it allows me to play better tennis, and it’s something I am definitely going to look to continue.”