In­jury-plagued Anderson is feel­ing fine as fi­nal­ist

The Washington Post Sunday - - SPORTS - BY AVA WALLACE

Af­ter Kevin Anderson was forced to with­draw from 12 dif­fer­ent tour­na­ments be­cause of at least six dif­fer­ent in­juries since the start of 2016, the stand­ing ova­tion that ush­ered him into his first event fi­nal in two years must have felt just as good as any mas­sage.

Fans on Sta­dium Court at Rock Creek Park Tennis Cen­ter ap­plauded the 31-year-old South African with gusto Satur­day af­ter­noon even though he had just ousted the last Amer­i­can stand­ing in the men’s sin­gles draw at the Citi Open, eighth-seeded Jack Sock, with some ease. Anderson, the No. 15 seed, took just 90 min­utes to beat Sock, 6-3, 6-4, de­ploy­ing 12 aces from his 6foot-8 frame along the way. A tall or­der awaits him in Sunday’s fi­nal, where he will face fifth­seeded Alexander Zverev.

Zverev took out a tired-look­ing Kei Nishikori, Wash­ing­ton’s cham­pion in 2015, 6-3, 6-4, in just over an hour.

A frus­trated Sock de­parted af­ter fac­ing his sec­ond big server in as many matches on the speedy Sta­dium Court. All week, play­ers had called the Citi Open’s courts the fastest on tour — hu­mid­ity smooths out the grit­ti­ness of the con­crete — and it took Sock a few mo­ments to ad­just to Anderson’s pace. He won just one point of the first 10.

“Pretty shock­ing tennis court,” Sock said, a sen­ti­ment both Nishikori and Zverev echoed af­ter their match. “I don’t think I’ll be back at this tour­na­ment, prob­a­bly, in the fu­ture. Prob­a­bly the worst court of the year. Speed, bounces, ev­ery­thing. Pretty shock­ing.”

Anderson, too, no­ticed the ball bounced er­rat­i­cally, es­pe­cially on one side of the court. Still, 12 aces in 90 min­utes is a mod­est af­ter­noon for Anderson, who served 21 in both of his two pre­ced­ing

matches. Mod­est, at this point in the tour­na­ment, suits him just fine.

The late-night matches and quick turn­arounds in Wash­ing­ton weren’t easy for the No. 45 sin­gles player in the world. Since the 2016 Aus­tralian Open, Anderson has dealt with in­juries to a hip, a leg, a knee, an an­kle that re­quired surgery and a groin. And lest the top half of his body es­cape un­scathed, he tweaked his right shoul­der last March.

The price was fall­ing to a ca­reer-low 80th in the world in Jan­uary, a pre­cip­i­tous drop from his ca­reer-high No. 10 in Oc­to­ber 2015 that fol­lowed a quar­ter­fi­nal ap­pear­ance in the U.S. Open.

Af­ter reach­ing the third ATP 500-level fi­nal of his ca­reer, Anderson ex­plained that the ac­com­plish­ment makes him feel like he is fi­nally back in top form. As a re­ward, he ended early enough Satur­day that for the first time all week he was able to ac­tu­ally go out to din­ner.

“To­day I ac­tu­ally went back on the court for like five or 10 min­utes to prac­tice a cou­ple of things,” he said, af­ter hav­ing played two matches in the span of 18 hours to even get to the semi­fi­nal, one of which ended at mid­night, “but that’s very, very rare.”

As for Sunday’s fi­nal, with his body and his tennis hold­ing up, Anderson feels he is in a good po­si­tion to take the crown. He has lost both of his meet­ings with Zverev, in­clud­ing a three-set loss in Wash­ing­ton two years ago when the Ger­man was just a teenager.

That was a dif­fer­ent, less re­fined Zverev. The 20-year-old is on a tear this year, hav­ing won three of his four ca­reer ti­tles in the past six months, in­clud­ing a Masters 1000-level win over No­vak Djokovic in Rome this year. On Satur­day, he won the first 10 points against Nishikori and re­mained in com­mand all match, dish­ing 25 win­ners to Nishikori’s 10. One of the most promis­ing mem­bers of tennis’s gen­er­a­tionin-wait­ing, Zverev has dropped just a sin­gle set on the way to the fi­nal.

Asked what he might carry over from that match to Sunday, Zverev fur­rowed his brow be­fore re­spond­ing: “A lot has changed since then. I don’t think he played that well that match. I played amaz­ing for that time.”

Scary, then, to think how much Zverev has im­proved. But Anderson is a dif­fer­ent per­son as well nowa­days, and he won’t be dwelling on his young op­po­nent’s hot streak. He makes an ef­fort to be more pos­i­tive on the court now. Re­build­ing his body helped build up his mind.

“There’s a few things you can work on, but most of the time it just comes down to more of the way you see things, and that re­ally gov­erns — es­pe­cially when you’re play­ing tennis for this long — it has a much higher im­pact on your game,” Anderson said. “Es­pe­cially when there’s things you can’t con­trol like that, it’s easy to get frus­trated and maybe get down on yourself, but for me I’ve re­ally tried to take the other ap­proach . . . . I feel like I’m on a great path, and if I con­tinue to do that I’ll give my­self the best chance [Sunday].”

DOUG KAPUSTIN FOR THE WASH­ING­TON POST

“I feel like I’m on a great path,” said Kevin Anderson, lung­ing Satur­day as he re­turns a shot to Jack Sock in a 6-3, 6-4 vic­tory.

DOUG KAPUSTIN FOR THE WASH­ING­TON POST

“Prob­a­bly the worst court of the year,” said Jack Sock, bounc­ing his racket in frus­tra­tion Satur­day.

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