An­der­son out to gain re­venge at ATP Fi­nals

Business Day - - SPORT - Craig Ray Cape Town

As far as draws go among the men’s elite of the ten­nis world, SA’s Kevin An­der­son could not have hoped for a bet­ter open­ing match than against Aus­tria’s Do­minic Thiem.

An­der­son, 32, is mak­ing his de­but at the sea­son-end­ing fi­nale, which is a round-robin com­pe­ti­tion fea­tur­ing the topeight ranked play­ers of the year.

An­der­son opens his ac­count on Sun­day against Thiem at Lon­don’s O2 Arena in a re­match of their fourth-round clash at the 2018 US Open, which Thiem won in straight sets.

South African dou­bles spe­cial­ist Raven Klaasen is also in the elite field with New Zealand part­ner Michael Venus.

No SA sin­gles player has won the ATP Fi­nals, but in 1977 Frew McMil­lan and Bob He­witt won the dou­bles, while Piet Nor­val and El­lis Fer­reira also won the dou­bles in 2000 and 2001 with Amer­i­can part­ners Don­ald John­son and Rick Leach. Klaasen was run­ner-up in 2016 Amer­i­can, as was Ra­jeev Ram.

An­der­son booked his place in the elite tour­na­ment by win­ning the Aus­trian Open re­cently, his sec­ond ATP ti­tle of the sea­son. He has been drawn in Group Lley­ton He­witt along­side Switzer­land’s Roger Fed­erer, Thiem and Ja­pan’s Kei Nishikori.

The other four play­ers in the field — Ser­bia’s No­vak Djokovic, Ger­many’s Alexan­der Zverev, Croa­tia’s Marin Cilic and Amer­i­can John Is­ner — are in the Group Guga Kuerten. World No 2 Rafa Nadal and No 4 Juan Martin Del Potro with­drew due to in­jury, al­low­ing Nishikori and Is­ner to be in­cluded as ninth and 10th seeds.

An­der­son has won six of their eight clashes but Thiem has won the last two, which have both come this sea­son. Thiem’s other win was in the semi­fi­nals at the ATP 1000 tour­na­ment in Madrid, which was played on clay. An­der­son’s six wins over Thiem, which started at the 2014 Aus­tralian Open, have all been on hard court.

Thiem made his first Grand Slam fi­nal at the French Open in 2018 (los­ing to Nadal) while eight of his 11 tour ti­tles have been on clay. But he is fast be­com­ing a dan­ger­ous op­po­nent on hard courts too. He has the ad­van­tage of hav­ing played at the ATP Fi­nals twice be­fore, although his record is a mod­est two wins and four losses.

“I’ve learned a lot in each of the past two years and it’s such a great event, with so many spec­ta­tors and ev­ery ses­sion is sold out, which is ab­so­lutely amaz­ing,” said Thiem. “I’ve learned that I need to be 100% from the very first ball. You don’t get any presents when you’re play­ing against the top eight.

“I’ve had an­other great year and qual­i­fied for Lon­don, which re­mains a top pri­or­ity at the start of each sea­son ... I’ve been re­ally con­sis­tent, so I’m happy to be back again. I want to fin­ish the year on a high and to take the lessons I’ve learned into 2019.”

Fed­erer of course, looms as the favourite in An­der­son’s group while Nishikori lost to the 2.03m tall South African in the fi­nal in Aus­tria. But the Ja­panese re­venged with a vic­tory over An­der­son in Paris last week.

Fed­erer will be play­ing his 16th ATP Fi­nals and look­ing for a record sev­enth win, while Djokovic, on the other side of the draw, is the only other pre­vi­ous win­ner with five ti­tles.

Kevin An­der­son Do­minic Thiem

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