Featuring in two Grand Slam finals in the last 12 months – having never before played in any – is a fine feat for Kevin Anderson.
So is a top-five debut.
These are the positives the South African is choosing to focus on, despite going down to Novak Djokovic in straight sets in the Wimbledon final on Sunday.
Anderson, lethargic and nervous, was completely shut out of the first two sets before making a match of it in the third. It’s a result following on from his straight-sets loss to Rafael Nadal in the US Open final last September.
“I think one of the biggest challenges tennis players face, what sort of separated the top guys who have done so well and guys further down, is maybe not necessarily just their raw abilities, but it’s their ability to play their best tennis in these sort of matches. I wasn’t able to do that in the beginning. He was,” Anderson said of Djokovic.
“I was able to do it more in the third set. That’s the kind of tennis I would need to have to play and the comfortability [sic] I’d need from the beginning. That’s something we’ve worked really hard on. I know I’m making progress. I can take a lot of confidence in that.
“It was obviously disappointing, not the result I was hoping for today. But, I always try to look for the positives from it.”
"I'd have given another 21 hours to have the opportunity to play out here – it really meant a lot to me"
— Wimbledon (@Wimbledon) July 15, 2018
Considering where he was 18 months ago, becoming a regular presence deep at major tournaments is especially impressive.
A rash of injuries that blighted his 2016 season spilled over into 2017; a hip injury forced him to skip the Australian summer that year. But he worked his way back into the regular cycle of competing on the circuit and by August began his charge to the final at Flushing Meadows – a result that pushed him from 32nd to 15th in the rankings.
He’d been a top-10 player before – for a week, back in October 2015 – but this time the experiences he’d accrued and setbacks he’s been forced to overcome have instilled within him the belief he’s truly as top player with the ability to win the sport’s biggest titles.
“It was about two and a half years ago, just in the team and in the chat, we had a chat on WhatsApp called ‘top-five Kev’,” he laughed. “Things were looking good. Then obviously I had a major setback and injuries in 2016. So seeing that I made top five, I’m incredibly proud of that achievement, especially if I look back where I was just 15 months ago, around 80.
“Even though it was a huge goal of mine, if you asked me this time a year ago, I don’t think I could sit here and say I really believe that I can win a Grand Slam and a Masters Series and say it with the same self-belief and confidence that I can now. That’s by no means a sure thing whatsoever, but it’s a big starting point.
“It’s taken a long time to get to this point. I feel like I’m on a great path. I’m trusting the process a lot. I have to continue doing that.”
It’s a process that paid off this fortnight at Wimbledon.
Anderson scored a landmark victory in the quarterfinals over No.1 seed Roger Federer – he’d never before taken a set off the superstar Swiss in four previous meetings – and then outlasted John Isner in the most epic of Wimbledon semifinals, winning 26-24 in the final set.
There was plenty for the 32-year-old to be proud of. And he’s looking ahead to the rest of the season – and beyond – with optimism, seeking that elusive major title.
“I definitely believe I have the game to win these tournaments,” he declared.
“If I’m not in another Grand Slam final, it’s because maybe I just got unlucky. You can’t control everything. What I can control, I’m doing my best at doing. I have a lot of belief I can put myself into another one of these matches, and hopefully have the result that I’m looking for.”
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