Kevin An­der­son Rafa-ling feath­ers in the Big Ap­ple

Sunday Times - - FRONT PAGE - By LIAM DEL CARME del­carmel@sun­day­

The re­main-in-the-mo­ment mantra of hit­ting one ball at a time has fi­nally paid off for South Africa’s US Open fi­nal­ist Kevin An­der­son.

“His dad Mike always said don’t look too far. Be your­self, play one ball at a time. The ball has no mem­ory, you cre­ate it. And have no re­grets,” said Bar­bara An­der­son yes­ter­day af­ter her son set up a meet­ing with Rafa Nadal tonight at Flush­ing Mead­ows.

Her big serv­ing-son’s per­se­ver­ance is start­ing to pay off. “It is nice to see all the prac­tice and all the years of us ded­i­cat­ing our lives to ten­nis com­ing to fruition. The easy part al­most is play­ing the match, not all the stuff that went into it,” she said sagely.

In that re­gard Kelsey, Kevin’s wife, has been a rock. “She's been at his side, keep­ing his feet on the ground,” said Kevin's mom. “For the last four, five years she has been trav­el­ling with him and that has helped to cre­ate a sense of home-based travel.”

They met at the Univer­sity of Illi­nois, and Kelsey put her ca­reer in ac­count­ing on hold to help man­age An­der­son. By beat­ing Pablo Car­reño Busta her hus­band has a shot at glory af­ter an in­or­di­nate amount of ef­fort went into his re­cov­ery from in­jury.

The player paid trib­ute to his team headed by coach Neville God­win, but re­served speHe cial men­tion for physio Richard Sut­ton, whose treat­ment averted hip surgery.

“He came here (Jo­han­nes­burg) in Novem­ber and De­cem­ber of last year and had in­ten­sive treat­ment for six weeks. He then took a few months off and his rank­ing dropped,” Kevin’s mom said.

With a re­cu­per­ated body An­der­son set about re­pair­ing his rank­ing that had dropped to 80.

While he was do­ing so, per­haps iron­i­cally, the high rate of at­tri­tion on the ATP tour took its toll else­where.

Novak Djokovic, Andy Mur­ray, Stan Wawrinka and Mi­los Raonic all yielded to or­thopaedic up­heaval be­fore New York to help smooth An­der­son’s path to the fi­nal.

ac­knowl­edged as much. “It was nice of them to step aside this time,” An­der­son self­dep­re­cat­ingly re­marked.

Win or lose tonight, how­ever, he hasn't so much bro­ken records as set it straight.

This coun­try's long-time high­est-ranked player be­came the low­est-ranked man (32nd) to reach the fi­nal in New York since the rank­ing sys­tem was in­tro­duced in 1973.

He is the first South African-born player to reach a grand slam fi­nal since Kevin Cur­ren lost in the cli­max of Wim­ble­don in 1985, while Cliff Drys­dale was the last man in pos­ses­sion of an RSA pass­port to con­test the US Open men’s sin­gles fi­nal.

That was back in 1965, even be­fore ground was bro­ken for the con­struc­tion of New York's twin tow­ers.

At 2.07m An­der­son is also the tallest man to reach a grand slam fi­nal.

An­der­son's quar­ter­fi­nal against Amer­i­can Sam Quer­rey was his first in the im­pos­ing 23 771 ca­pac­ity Arthur Ashe Sta­dium - the world’s big­gest ten­nis-spe­cific arena.

He seemed to warm to the loud arena with overt dis­plays of self-en­cour­age­ment.

The odds how­ever are stacked against him. At 31 he is a novice to the business end of grand slam tour­na­ments, un­like his op­po­nent, Nadal, who is in his 23rd.

An­der­son’s task be­comes greater still when you con­sider Nadal had won their four pre­vi­ous en­coun­ters.

This year Nadal too has been on a path to phys­i­cal restora­tion. That he was over his in­juries was con­firmed when he reached the Aussie Open fi­nal. That his ap­petite was as vo­ra­cious as ever was un­der­lined with a 10th ti­tle at Roland Gar­ros, while his recla­ma­tion of the No 1 rank­ing served no­tice that he was on top of, if not his game, his clos­est ri­vals.

While An­der­son's folks won't be with him he will be sur­rounded by friendly faces. Golfers Louis Oosthuizen and Charl Schwartzel, per­haps also es­cap­ing Hur­ri­cane Irma, were there for the semi­fi­nal.

Many feel An­der­son is going to need all the help he can get against the 15-time grand slam win­ner. “He phoned briefly af­ter his semi­fi­nal. He couldn’t talk long,” said mom.

“He didn't talk about the fi­nal. He just wanted to say hello. He was look­ing for­ward to just hav­ing the day off be­fore the fi­nal. Time to re­group and ab­sorb the nice win that he had.”

An­der­son's folks still have to de­cide whether they will stay up for the fi­nal. “We pre­ferred to watch it in a re­laxed state. We knew the re­sult by the time we watched the semi. You watch with joy in your heart and not all the nerves.”

Maybe that is the best course of ac­tion. As re­doubtable op­po­nents go, few are tougher than Nadal. “It is prob­a­bly the most im­por­tant match for me that re­mains this year,” the Spa­niard told re­porters about the fi­nal.

It un­doubt­edly is the most im­por­tant of An­der­son's life.

The easy part al­most is play­ing the match Bar­bara An­der­son Kevin An­der­son’s mom

Pic­ture: Reuters

Kevin An­der­son will play against Rafael Nadal in tonight’s US Open fi­nal in New York City.

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