Kevin Anderson Interview - Miami, Mar 28Posted on March 29, 2008
K. ANDERSON/N. Djokovic
75, 36, 64
An interview with:
THE MODERATOR: Questions, please.
Q. I don't know if you've ever heard of Red Grange, possibly the greatest football player in Illinois history. But I suppose this might earn you a picture up on the wall at the athletic department alongside Red.
KEVIN ANDERSON: Yeah. I'm just pretty happy with my picture up at the indoor facility. It's just I feel, such a great honor and pride being part of such a program. It means so much to me.
I feel, I mean it's really my home away from home. And all the guys that were traveling up to play Northwestern today. When I called the coach, I had a full applause from the back. It really felt good.
Q. So I guess you made the right decision to turn pro then.
KEVIN ANDERSON: I think looking back I feel pretty happy with the decision I made. It was really hard at first, especially the first couple of months. Suddenly being by myself and knowing that I still had another year left at school.
You know, I had spoke to Brad quite a bit about it. He put forth sort of a proposal that I could maybe stay at school and still play tournaments. I just felt in my heart that I was ready to play. I think looking back at it, I think I made the right decision.
Q. What's been the thing that you've noted the most as far as having to make the transition? Like you said, being on your own more, but beyond that.
KEVIN ANDERSON: Yeah, definitely I think that part was the biggest part. Just being by myself with no one to travel with, no coach and stuff. And as I've sort of worked up a little bit from challengers and now playing a few more ATP events, I think just the mental toughness and competitiveness for each and every single point is a lot higher than in college.
You really can't get away with anything here. You have to be fully focused and really prepared for every single game. I think in college there are a few games where you can get out of it. You can be maybe sort of worrying about what's going on elsewhere and still get through your match.
Here, it's just, I mean, just the competitiveness is really at the highest level.
Q. When you got through the qualifying and you saw the draw and you see that you have Novak Djokovic in your initial match, how did you prepare for this?
KEVIN ANDERSON: I actually didn't look at the draw. I just saw that I was playing I was playing, Wow, I completely blanked on his name, Calleri. Yeah, so actually I only found out who I was playing after I actually won that match.
I kind of tend not to look too far. Just sort of focus from match to match. At least that's what I've done in the past. When I found out I was playing Novak, I was really, really excited about it. Just the opportunity of playing, I think, the best player this year, and third in the rankings and also at the stadium, I was really excited for it.
Q. When the umpire called that time violation on Novak he won that point, but you won the next 13 in a row. Was Novak's sort of ball bouncing and so forth, was that an irritant to you at all?
KEVIN ANDERSON: I didn't feel it was that bad. I kind of tried to not get ready straightaway. I kind of got ready maybe a couple of seconds after he started. Actually noticed, yeah, in the third. Sort of ten points had gone by, and I suddenly realized that I had won quite a few points in a row.
I didn't feel I kind of maybe just felt a little maybe a second wind going. I definitely felt a little tired during the second and the beginning of the third. He had all the momentum and came back from Love40.
I really knew I needed to win that game. Somehow I got through that game, and I definitely felt a lot better going into the next game. I think I held pretty easy, and then I got a little more confidence going in sort of in the fifth game of the third set.
Q. From the first matchpoint, was that a tight one for you?
KEVIN ANDERSON: Yeah, just the crowd and the noise was unbelievable. Just kind of the reality of the situation was right there.
Yeah, I missed that second serve by quite a bit. I just knew I had to go after it, and he played a pretty good point then. Fortunately, I hit a pretty good second serve at deuce, and it gave me another chance at a whole other matchpoint.
Q. You seemed a bit in disbelief when you won.
KEVIN ANDERSON: I mean, yeah, yeah, I still am. Yeah, it's yeah, I really don't know even what to say right now. I really tried to give myself the best shot walking in today. I kept telling myself I can do this. I've just got to believe in myself, play my game.
But even still, just knowing what he's done and what a great player he is, and to have actually beaten him, I mean, it's a tremendous experience for me.
Q. How many text messages and phone calls have you received already since the end of it? And has Tiley been one of those?
KEVIN ANDERSON: Craig hasn't been one yet. But I looked at my phone, and I think I had 17 texts, and my phone's actually vibrating right now. So I've had quite a few.
It's just been great to get all the support from all the guys at Illinois and friends and family back home as well.
Q. What were you studying, and how does a guy from South Africa get to Illinois?
KEVIN ANDERSON: I was studying business, and I was probably going to major in economics if I had stayed. And Craig Tiley, who was our Davis Cup captain, he recruited me. And our team, Illinois had just won the 2003 National Championships the year before, So I kind of knew a little bit about their program.
It was just one of those things that my heart was set on it from the minute I started talking to Craig. I always knew if I had a place in there I was always going to go, and fortunately it all worked out well.
Q. How about the decision of going to college versus just joining the tour right away? Was that even an option?
KEVIN ANDERSON: Actually, yeah. In the beginning of the year I had no intention of going to school at all. I didn't know that much about it. It kind of had that stigma about it. If you went to college, you couldn't have made it, and that was a second best option.
When coaches started to call me and inform me about the system, I started speaking to other players. I really thought it could be a great system for me. I could play a lot of matches for spring, and also the opportunity to play for futures and challengers during the summers as well.
Yeah, looking back, I'm really happy I made that decision. I'd definitely make it again if I had to.
Q. At what age did you come to the U.S.?
KEVIN ANDERSON: The first time I came to the U.S. was when I was 18 on a few recruiting trips, and I played the junior US Open. I started my freshman year was in 2005, January, 2005.
Q. Did you feel, from the beginning of the match, Novak was a little off? That your game was throwing him off? What were you sensing from him?
KEVIN ANDERSON: It's really hard for me to say. I've never stepped on the court with him before, and I've just seen him playing on TV. Sometimes it's a little different the perspectives on TV than actually playing somebody.
But to get through that first service game, I think was pretty important for me to start on the level playing and going down a break straightaway. I think sometimes is the case when you're playing, you know, somebody ranked as high as he is on such a big stage.
I felt I played a pretty good service game. In the first few games I was hanging with him and got to a tiebreaker. Tiebreakers can really go either way, and I served pretty well and played a few points. The next minute I had won the first set.
So, yeah, I think it was I mean, he was making a few sort of easy mistakes I felt. I mean, obviously, coming from a win last week it's never easy to regroup and start off. But, I mean, still obviously giving it everything, being defending champion here, obviously had a lot of points this week.
Q. Are you by yourself here? Or are you traveling with anybody?
KEVIN ANDERSON: I have been traveling by myself. This week I have a few people, Mike Daley, and his colleague, John McDonough. My girlfriend, Kelsey O'Neal, actually flew in yesterday, and a really good friend Fritz Wolmarans, who is from South Africa. He plays tennis as well. And a friend from Illinois.
So I actually had eight or so people in my box. It was really fun having them watch me, because I've played a lot of matches by myself.
Q. Where are you based here in the States?
KEVIN ANDERSON: I'm still based out of Champagne. When I'm not playing, I go back there. I have all the facilities that I need. I have a strength coach and Brad Dancer actually still coaches me when I go back. He's the guy when I'm traveling I'm calling him and asking him advice and stuff. I practice with all the guys on the team as well. So for right now, I feel it's a good setup for me.
Q. Mike said that Tiley came to Wimbledon this year. Was that a Wimbledon junior tournament?
KEVIN ANDERSON: It was.
Q. And what impact did that have on your decision to go to college?
KEVIN ANDERSON: He actually worked up with me, and Wayne Ferreira was by his side. It was the first time I got to meet him as well. So it was probably a good little opening statement from Craig.
And, yeah, just speaking to him, he had a really good reputation as Davis Cup captain. He had done a good job. And he had just led Illini to a national championship.
It was really good talking to him. He showed a really big interest in me. We just kept on talking. And couple months down the line he said there was a spot there for me.
Q. Did he give you any advice at that time?
KEVIN ANDERSON: Not really. It's a little bit against NCAA rules. You can't really get too, too involved. You've just got to stick to the recruiting spots. So there was no sort of advice on play.
Q. Do you think Cliff Drysdale will introduce himself to you now?
KEVIN ANDERSON: I don't know. Hopefully. I'd like to get to meet him.
Q. Are you saying you don't think you want to travel with a coach at this point?
KEVIN ANDERSON: No, I'm definitely looking for a coach. I think it's really important, especially right now. I just don't want to rush into it. I want to find the right person for me. Somebody I get along with and knows my game and works out well.
I've had a little bit of a tough time trying to find that person. So, definitely, if the right person comes along, I'm definitely interested in finding somebody to travel with.
Q. South Africa used to be a presence in tennis, and that's fallen off. When you were growing up, was there anyone you looked to, perhaps, Ferreira, I don't know?
KEVIN ANDERSON: Yeah, it was pretty tough. There wasn't a lot of opportunities. Our federation had a lot of problems financially. They tried to turn things around, and I think it's slowly started to turn around.
Growing up, there were not a lot of people to practice with as far as, you know, turning pro. Firstly, because everybody is touring around the world, and it's hard to go back to South Africa just because it's so far from everywhere. There wasn't a huge incentive to go back.
So most of my practices were done with my dad who coached me. He has coached me since I started playing. Since I was six. And my brother, too, he plays as well. And that was most of my practice. Then just before I hit with Louis Vosloo quite a bit, and he was a pro.
But there was definitely well, we tried our best to find as many people as we could. It was mostly people who had maybe tried and didn't and stopped play. There was no sort of current turning professional.
Q. Where was that?
KEVIN ANDERSON: Where was?
Q. Where you were growing up?
KEVIN ANDERSON: All in Johannesburg. That's where I'm from.
Q. Is your father a tennis coach?
KEVIN ANDERSON: He played a little himself. And he just taught the game himself. He's coached me and my brother since we started playing. Maybe five, six years ago he got coaching just to further his knowledge. But he's only coached me and my brother.
Q. You're earning a nice paycheck here and Vegas as well. But I'm told I should ask you about the Ferrari you received for your birthday.
KEVIN ANDERSON: Yeah, I actually got to drive a Lamborghini last year. I stayed with a family in Louisville, and they actually let me drive their car which was really fun. And hopefully, one day I'll be able to get one on my own.
Q. Are you 6'5" or 6'7"?
KEVIN ANDERSON: I'm 6'7".
Q. It's unusual to see someone that height as agile as you are, particularly your ability to hold the baseline. Your footwork seems to be surprisingly good. Where is that coming from? Were you a football player when you were younger also?
KEVIN ANDERSON: No, I've just spent my whole life playing from the baseline. My dad's really reinforced the idea that it's really tough in today's game just to be able to rely on coming to the net. He really believes you've got to be comfortable from the baseline.
The thing I've worked the most on in the last few years is trying to come forward more, be more aggressive. I'm doing a lot better job of that. Before I was even too defensive. I'm trying to find more opportunities to come to the net.
But since I've been playing, I've always played from the baseline, and I've worked really hard on it. I've done a lot of agility work and worked with a couple of people who helped me with that. But I still know that is my biggest thing I continue to improve on is my speed and my footwork, and I spend a lot of time doing that.
Q. People say they learn more from the losses typically than their wins and it might be too soon afterwards. But do you think you might look back and see that anything you learned from today's win?
KEVIN ANDERSON: Definitely. I think the biggest thing is just that I can compete with the best in the world, and I showed myself that today.
Regardless whether he was on form or off form, it's still a win, and that's still really important for me. I still feel during the matches a couple things I can continue to improve on and need to improve on if I'm going to be able to do this on a consistent basis.
But looking back, I just think, you know, playing in that situation and actually coming through is a really, you know, really positive aspect for me.
Q. You said at the beginning that you've watched him play on TV, but sometimes it's different when you play them in person. How is it different? What did you expect going in, and how is he different than what you see on TV when you're actually playing him?
KEVIN ANDERSON: I would say it was maybe a month and a half ago when I started playing a few more guys on the tour. Just on TV it just seems like the ball's coming so hard. I mean, it is coming hard, but it's not as hard as I thought it was. You know, playing a few guys in Las Vegas was really good for me. Just seeing that I can compete with these guys.
Coming in today was, I mean, I knew what I was up against. I mean, I knew he had a good first serve, and I managed to break him a couple times in the end. But before that I wasn't getting a good look on his serve at all. He moved really well.
It was tough getting the ball past him a lot of times where I almost let up because I thought he was either not going to get there or I'd have a really easy shot and he was completely back in the point. So that was definitely there. He's got a really good backhand which was there.
Yeah, but it was just good for me right from the beginning. Being able to, you know, stay with him right up until, well, you know, getting that first set was a really important thing for me to do.
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