For a country supposedly never having rediscovered its golden age of tennis, South Africa is doing remarkably well at present, with two players competing at the Nitto ATP Finals in London this coming week.
Raven Klaasen resumes his highly successful doubles partnership with the New Zealander Michael Venus, with whom he has won one title this year and reached four other finals, notably Wimbledon. That was Klaasen’s second major final, after he became the first non-white South African to appear in a major final back in 2014 when he and Eric Butorac were beaten finalists at the Australian Open.
But Klaasen’s second appearance at the ATP Finals pales in comparison with Kevin Anderson’s first. Not since 1995 has South Africa had a singles participant at the eight-man year-ending finale, and even then Wayne Ferreira was dependent on Andre Agassi pulling out of the event in Frankfurt to get his place. Ferreira then won two of his three group matches but failed to make it to the semi-finals.
Anderson needed no such injuries. His title in Vienna last month, a triumph that almost evaporated when he came within a point of losing his first match in the Austrian capital, ensured he would make it to London’s tent-like O2 Arena, especially with the ranking points he gained from reaching the Wimbledon final and the semis on the clay of Madrid. His has been a truly all-encompassing year that sees him come to London as the sixth-best player with a game that has peaked at the age of 32.
Originally from Johannesburg, Anderson has lived most of his adult life in Florida. That’s partly due to having an American wife, Kelsey, but is also because many professionals base themselves in either Florida or south-western Europe to make the most of the combination of favourable climate and superb practice facilities. His failure to play Davis Cup since 2011 has led some people to question his commitment to the country of his birth, but Anderson has never seen Davis Cup as the only measure of his commitment to South Africa, and he’s very keen for his presence in London to be a boost to tennis not just in South Africa but in the whole of the continent of Africa.
‘I really do appreciate the support I get from back home,’ he said on the pre-tournament media day in London. ‘Because the circuit goes around the world there are so many big tournaments that we compete in, but I do get the encouragement from South Africa, and it’s very special. The biggest thing I hope to come out of this week, especially for the kids, is for people watching me to be inspired to play. And even if they’re not playing tennis, I hope my presence here allows them just to believe in themselves. I know what it’s like coming from SA, being pretty far from a lot of things, but I hope my success shows that hard work really does pay off.’
Both South Africans open the week on Sunday. Klaasen and Venus take on Jamie Murray and Bruno Soares in the first match of the tournament
(14.00 SA time), and that’s followed by Anderson against Dominic Thiem in the first singles match (16.00 SA). Anderson is in a group with Thiem, Kei Nishikori and another player with a South African passport, Roger Federer; the winners of Sunday’s Anderson-Thiem and Federer-Nishikori matches will face each other on Tuesday, with the losers also playing that day, and the final group matches taking place on Thursday.
Written by Chris Bowers. Chris Bowers is a member of the ATP Tennis Radio commentary team that brings live coverage of the whole tournament.
Photo: Doubles teams at Nitto ATP Finals