Injury-plagued Anderson is feeling fine as finalist
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].”
“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.
“Probably the worst court of the year,” said Jack Sock, bouncing his racket in frustration Saturday.