NEW YORK — While growing up in South Africa, Kevin Anderson eagerly watched each men’s final of the U.S. Open tennis tournament from the time he was about 8 or 9 years old.
Given the time difference between his home in Johannesburg and Arthur Ashe Stadium in Flushing Meadows, however, Anderson would be sound asleep as those matches played out.
So, what the future University of Illinois All-American viewed the next morning was either a televised replay or a taped recording of the championship. Not that this lessened Anderson’s sense of anticipation any because ...
“No one would know who had won,” he said.
Unless, that is, someone let it slip.
“I remember the one year my dad actually told me the result right when I woke up,” Anderson said, “so I wasn’t too happy about that.”
This week, when Michael and Barbara Anderson keep tabs on the U.S. Open from South Africa — either via the Internet or television — their eyes will be drawn to someone who once shared their home. Kevin, who dared to dream big when he was a preteen watching Pete Sampras win several of his five U.S. Open titles, will himself be on one of tennis’ biggest stages.
“There was almost a reverence (toward) the guys who are playing out there,” Anderson said of his boyhood view of the game’s star attractions who shined brightest in the Grand Slam spotlight. “It was definitely an inward ambition and dream to be there one day, as well.
“Definitely it’s been a long road, but looking back at that and heading into this Open, it’s always exciting to have been able to achieve a part of that dream.”
Now 27 and in his sixth full year as a pro, Anderson is ranked 20th in the world entering his sixth U.S. Open, which begins Monday. The 17th seed is paired against 51st-ranked Daniel Brands of Germany in the first round.
Anderson first participated in a U.S. Open in 2008, losing in the first qualifying round. That result repeated itself the next year, but the former NCAA doubles champion has competed in the main draw every year since 2010, twice advancing to the Round of 32.
If Anderson should take the next step this year at Flushing Meadows — or even several steps — it should come as no surprise.
He’s 8-3 in the three previous 2013 Grand Slam tournaments, advancing to the Round of 16 in the Australian and French opens. Both were career-best finishes in a major.
“I had been in the third round a couple times, so getting into the fourth round was definitely a good feeling,” Anderson said. “You’re always looking to improve on that, but sometimes (it’s) one step at a time, and those were definitely two good steps forward.
“Looking ahead at the (U.S.) Open ... hopefully (I’m) getting farther than the fourth round and getting to the quarterfinal and maybe even further. That would definitely be what I’m striving for.”
Regardless of how Anderson fares in the year’s final Grand Slam, he’s already taken some significant steps in 2013. His performances in Sydney and Paris are prime examples of that. So is the career-best world ranking of No. 19 he achieved the week of Aug. 12-18. Anderson entered the year at No. 37.
“Top 20 would be maybe a bit of a benchmark, so that was good,” the three-time All-American said. “I take confidence from that. I look at the next goal and I think maybe top 15 would be the next barrier ranking. I think it’s a good indication of where I’ve come from.”
With a 34-17 record and more than fourth months remaining, Anderson is positioned to break his personal record of 42 ATP World Tour victories in one year. His current winning percentage of 66.7 is a pro career best for a single year.
One more indication that Anderson has taken his game to a new level in 2013: He’s advanced to the title round in three tournaments. That matches the number of ATP finals appearances in his entire pro career entering the year.
What’s missing this year, however, is a title win. Anderson came oh so close in July at the Atlanta Open, waging a battle royal in the final with former college rival John Isner before falling 6-7 (3), 7-6 (2), 7-6 (2). In the third set, Anderson had two match-point opportunities. Isner responded by rocketing a 143-mph service ace. Then, Anderson hit a backhand return into the net — giving the former Georgia Bulldog new life and momentum heading into the decisive tiebreak.
“It was tough to be on the short end on that one,” Anderson said. “I felt I was playing good tennis, and that’s just how it goes sometimes. I was obviously disappointed, but I was happy with how I played throughout the week, as well.”
Now, the Tour has taken Anderson to New York, where the tennis heroes of his youth have given way to a new generation. His generation.
Any Grand Slam event is big, Anderson says, but each has its own unique feel. A feel that the TV screen only hinted at when he watched this particular major as a boy.
“For me, what really stands out about New York is just the energy that is in the city and at the tournament,” he said. “I think the night sessions really stand out.”
An ocean away, Michael and Barbara Anderson are sure to be watching. And rooting for the world’s No. 20 player.
“They’ll definitely be glued to the TV,” Kevin Anderson said.