| By Brian Coleman

New York has become a comfortable place for Kevin Anderson in recent years.

Last winter, Anderson came to Long Island to compete in the inaugural New York Open after a disappointing opening round loss at the 2018 Australian Open, a tough five-set defeat to Kyle Edmund in a match where he held a two-sets-to-one lead.

Just months prior, the Johannesburg, South Africa native who starred at the University of Illinois, had powered his way to the 2017 U.S. Open final at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in Queens. And although he fell to Rafael Nadal in the title match, those two weeks in the Big Apple served as the stage for the best result of his career.

But his time in Melbourne shortly after that would come to a halt quicker than expected, and he found himself headed back to New York to compete in the first-ever New York Open.

It was on Long Island on the black courts of NYCB LIVE, Home of the Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum, where Anderson began the 2018 campaign that has propelled him firmly inside the Top 10 of the world rankings.

Anderson came back from a set down to defeat American Ernesto Escobedo in his opening round match, and then ousted Frances Tiafoe in straight sets to set up an intriguing Saturday night semifinal against another former U.S. Open finalist in Japan’s Kei Nishikori.

The star-studded matchup did not disappoint, as the players took the match the distance where Anderson outlasted Nishikori 6-1, 3-6, 7-6(4) to book his spot in the finals against American Sam Querrey.

Even beyond the ranking points and prize money, it was a very important final for Anderson in terms of confidence and a springboard for the rest of the season. One of the goals he had laid out for himself was to be better in the latter stages of tournaments and claim some titles.

He did just that against Querrey, capturing the first-ever New York Open championship by coming back to win, 4-6, 6-3, 7-6(1).

“One of the big goals I had for this year was to try to be a bit more successful in that final stage,” said Anderson after ousting Querrey for the title. “It feels great to come through and get the win. It gives me a lot of confidence for the year.”

The victory set the foundation for Anderson to, at 32-years-old, have the breakout season of his career. After New York, he managed to compile consistent results in some of the future tournaments he played in. He reached the finals in Acapulco, Mexico before taking part in two of the biggest events on tour, outside of the four Grand Slams.

Anderson advanced to the quarterfinals of the two ATP Masters 1000s tournaments in Miami and Indian Wells, and while his clay season was unsuccessful, he only reached the Round of 16 at the French Open, he was gearing up for a fantastic Wimbledon run.

It would turn out to be an incredibly long fortnight on the grass courts of the All-England Lawn and Tennis Club. He started off his run with routine victories in the first three rounds, before beating Gael Monfils in four sets, thanks to three tiebreak wins, to reach the quarterfinals.

But his tournament was just getting started. He fought back from a set down to upset defending champion and second-ranked Roger Federer 2-6, 6-7(5), 7-5, 6-4, 13-11 to reach the semifinals in a match that lasted more than four hours. Just a couple of days later, Anderson was forced to play tennis for even longer, a marathon contest that lasted six hours and 36 minutes against fellow New York Open alum John Isner.

Anderson won 26-24 in a deciding fifth set, a remarkable victory that has essentially led to Wimbledon changing its rules on tiebreakers in deciding sets.

With hardly anything left in the tank for the finals, Novak Djokovic beat him in three sets in the Wimbledon final. Despite the tough defeat, it was a special tournament for Anderson.

“I am definitely not feeling as fresh as I was coming into the week,” Anderson said after his Wimbledon loss to Djokovic. “But I’d have given another 21 hours to have the opportunity to play out here, it really meant a lot to me.”

Anderson would go on to claim one more title in 2018 in Vienna, Austria, the fifth title of his career. While he didn’t lift a Grand Slam or Masters 1000s trophy, his year was successful enough to qualify him for the end-of-the-year ATP Finals at the O2 Arena in London, England for the first time in his career.

“Qualifying for London was a goal I stated all-year long,” said Anderson. “I think it was the culmination of a lot of hard work. If you look back at the last several years, there have always been parts of my game I wanted to improve and felt I could get better at. I feel like towards the end of 2017, after some injuries, I was able to pick up my game and a few things I had really been working on came together more. I feel I did a great job of taking that into [2018] and continuing that process. I knew if I stuck to my path day in and day out, I’d have the best chance at success, and I did a good job of sticking to that path throughout the year.”

He would win his first two round-robin matches in London, defeating Nishikori and Dominic Thiem, and advanced to the semifinals to take on Djokovic yet again. It was another straight-sets triumph for the Serb and it brought a close to Anderson’s 2018 season.

“I would have loved to have done better the past two matches because I got off to such a good start,” said Anderson. “But finishing 2018 with my career-best ranking, there has been a lot of positives. As a team, we’ll look for ways to improve because I still think there’s room for improvement, there are still a lot of objectives that I’ve set for myself for next year. Hopefully next year, at this time, I’ll finish in the top three. I think that will be a great goal for me. In order to do that, I’m going to have to have very good results at the Masters 1000s and Grand Slams.”

Anderson will look to build off his breakout 2018 season and take it to the next level in 2019.

“I think moving into 2019, the margins get a little smaller,” he said. “I set some higher goals, and the biggest thing is belief and confidence in my game.”

One of his first stops will be right here in New York, looking to build off his recent success in the city that never sleeps.

“I’ve had two good outings the last two times I’ve been in New York,” noted Anderson. “So I definitely look forward to coming back.”


 

Brian Coleman

 Brian Coleman is the Senior Editor for New York Tennis Magazine. He may be reached at brianc@usptennis.com