Kevin Anderson reached his physical heights more than a decade ago — a robust 6 feet, 8 inches.
At the ripe old age of 32, he has reached his tennis heights.
After his extraordinary run to the Wimbledon final in July, where he lost to Novak Djokovic, Anderson is at a career-best world ranking of No. 5. Rarely does a player achieve such success for the first time when he is north of 30.
“It’s been a long road to get here, but I’m really excited with my game,” the South African said recently as he entered the North American hard-court season in advance of the U.S. Open. “I’ve always had that belief that I had to work really hard to get here, overcome some challenges, so many ups and downs. Part of me felt like I could get here. Getting here at age 32 is later than most people have done in the past. It’s something that I’m really proud of.”
After reaching his first Grand Slam final at the U.S. Open last year and losing to Rafael Nadal, Anderson was sort of on idle until he got to Long Island in February to play in the inaugural New York Open at NYCB Live’s Nassau Coliseum. Anderson had just come off a frustrating loss in the first round of the Australian Open. Then he toughed out four straight three-set wins at the Coliseum, beating Sam Querrey in the final for his fourth career ATP win.
“The biggest takeaway from New York was winning the tournament, and one of the goals I set for myself for this year was having more success in the finals of tournaments,” Anderson said. “I lost a tough one in India earlier on, but the confidence I took away from ticking off that initial goal early on in the season definitely felt good.”
He remained reasonably competitive throughout the season, losing a final in Mexico to Juan Martin del Potro, and reaching the odd quarterfinal and semifinal. Then came Wimbledon and the most remarkable tournament of his career.
In the quarterfinals he faced the king of Wimbledon, Roger Federer. Federer had match point in the third set, but Anderson fought it off, broke Federer in the next game and held to take the third. With a 13-11 fifth set, Anderson won for the first time in five meetings against the 20-time Grand Slam champion in 4:14. The belief in his game had never been higher.
“He’s someone I’ve struggled with in the past,” Anderson said. “Beating him felt fantastic. Beating him at Wimbledon felt better. I was able to fight off that match point and win a very memorable match deep into the fifth set. I’d have to say it was my biggest win.”
The semifinal with John Isner was epic. Anderson beat Isner, 26-24, in the fifth set in 6:36 on Friday. That didn’t leave much in the tank for the final on Sunday against Djokovic, who won handily. Still, Anderson’s confidence level remains significantly pumped up.
“The belief factor going into U.S. Open last year, I felt my game was good enough to compete at that level,” Anderson said. “Now, four Grand Slams later, I feel even more comfortable. Going into the Slams I feel like I can say I’m entering tournaments to win them now. I might have been able to say that before, but not with that much conviction.”
Now he heads back to New York for a second time this year, to a U.S. Open that seems familiar ground.
“My brother lives [nearby], and I have friends from University of Illinois coming out to support me,” Anderson said. “Feels to some extent my home Grand Slam. I love being in Manhattan. Really excited to head back there this year.”
Anderson jumped from 32nd in the world to 15th after his Open final finish and to No. 5 after Wimbledon. He’s got a lot of ranking points to defend at Flushing Meadows this year. At age 32, he thinks he’s finally got the tools to do it.