Exclusive: After Injury Woe, Kevin Anderson Aims To Inspire In Hunt For Elusive Grand Slam Title - UBITENNIS
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Exclusive: After Injury Woe, Kevin Anderson Aims To Inspire In Hunt For Elusive Grand Slam Title

The world No.7 spoke to Ubitennis earlier this week at the Miami Open.

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Embarking upon this year’s Miami Open, two-time grand slam finalist Kevin Anderson felt at home and with good reason.

 

Since he started playing tennis at the age of six, the 6’8” South African has spent most of his career based in America. Growing up, he represented the University of Illinois. Winning the NCAA doubles title in 2006 followed by reaching the final of the singles competition a year later. It was at university where Anderson would meet his future wife, Kelsey, who he married in 2011. The two now reside in Gulf Stream, Florida. An affluent area of Delray Beach that is only an hour’s drive away from the Miami Open.

“Walking onto the court I felt like there was a lot of people that was excited to see me play and that really felt good.” Anderson commented about his first taste of the new venue.
“At the end of the day, it’s the fans that drive our sport and I’ve worked really hard.” He added.

Relishing in the atmosphere of a place that feels like home, Anderson is known as a player that wants to be respected both on and off the court. He is the co-founder of Realife Tennis, which provides online tennis instructions. In December Anderson raised over $100,000 at the inaugural Grand Slam Cause For the Paws, which supports South Florida’s dog rescue Dezzy’s Second Chance and Ocean Conservancy.

“I always act and perform in a way that people can look up to me, especially kids.”

It was in Miami, where Anderson made his debut in a Masters tournament. At the age of 22 he reached the third round of the 2008 tournament as a qualifier. Getting knocked out by 31st seed Igor Andreev. This year is the first time the venue has moved to the Hard Rock Stadium from Key Biscayne. Forcing many to adapt to the changes, but Anderson hasn’t been too preoccupied with that.

“It’s been interesting because I haven’t played that many points or sets. I was more focused on how my elbow was feeling and how my body was feeling.” He admits.
“To be honest, I haven’t been playing a lot of attention to the court. Whereas, when your body is healthy you are paying attention to the balls and court surface.”

Injury woes

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Unfortunately for the South African, 2019 has been far from perfect. An elbow injury forced him to take a nine-week hiatus from the tour. Making Miami only his third tournament of the year played. To put that into perspective, 12 months ago Miami was his sixth event of the season.

Sometimes taking a break from the sport is a blessing in disguise. The brutal demands of travelling the ATP Tour can take its toll of many players regardless of their ranking. However, for Anderson it wasn’t entirely a blessing. Instead, he was in the midst of uncertainty and frustration.

“At the time I didn’t know how long I was going to be out for.” He explained. “Each day was spent training. I was training in the morning, during rehab and going to different places to get different types of therapies. It wasn’t like I was told that I needed to take three or four weeks off to go on holiday.’
“It was nice spending time at home, but it was really busy.”

Like for any other player, Anderson’s inability to play a sport that he earns a living from was frustrating. Although he had seen a silver lining.

“It didn’t necessarily feel like a break. There were tough times, I was missing tournaments that I really enjoyed playing. So that part was a little bit difficult. Mentally, I felt I handled it quite well.”

Ready to make a mark

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Twice Anderson has been on the verge of becoming the first South African to win a major title in singles since Johan Kriek back in 1981. Losing to Rafael Nadal in the 2017 US Open final and then Novak Djokovic at Wimbledon last year. Although Anderson’s performance against Djokovic was hindered by his marathon clash with John Isner in the match before that lasted more than six-and-a-half hours. An outcome that created a widespread debate over the use of tiebreakers in the final sets.

Hoping to turn his misfortunes around this year, the world No.7 has his eyes set on a strong clay-court swing, which begins after Miami.  He is yet to contest a final on the surface, but remains undeterred about his chances.

“Even heading into the clay court season, it’s a time of the year that I really enjoy.” The Optimistic South African explains. “I’ve made the semis in Madrid last year and I’ve been pretty close to the quarter-finals at the French Open.”

Whilst clay may not be the strongest surface for the fast-serving Anderson, his determination remains unchanged. Now nursing his elbow back to full health, it is expected that he will pose a big threat to the tour once again.

“For me right now it’s one step at a time. Making sure I’m progressing where I want to be with the elbow. It’s about getting matches and playing the tennis I want to be playing.” Anderson outlines.
“I got high hopes. Right now it is about focusing day in and day out. Making sure my elbow responds during match situations..

Anderson will play his fourth round match in Miami on Tuesday against Jordan Thompson.

NOTE: Interview conducted by Luca Baldissera, article written by Adam Addicott

Interviews

EXCLUSIVE: Former Boris Becker Coach Bob Brett On The Rise Of The Next Generation

The Australian speaks to Ubitennis about the young guns on the tour and his work in Japan.

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At the Monte Carlo Masters this week is somebody that needs no introduction to the world of tennis.

 

Watching from the sidelines is Australian-born Bob Brett. A coach, whose career in the sport spans decades. His resume includes working alongside the likes of Boris Becker, Goran Ivanisevic and Marin Cilic whilst they were at the top of their sport. He also founded a tennis academy in San Remo, Italy and previously served as the head of player development for the British Lawn Tennis Association before resigning in 2015.

Since the days of Brett’s work alongside Becker, the game has changed somewhat. Power is more important than ever in matches and rallies are now more from the baseline than at the net. Something many has adjusted to in recent times. However, Brett believes there are also drawbacks too for the rising stars.

“Now it’s a little bit random I think with the next generation coming up because the game is different.” He said during an interview with Ubitennis. “Before with the ball there was much more trajectory and different things. There were more different opportunities with that to use a drop shot and all sorts of things.’
“Whereas today it is more a less about staying near the baseline, hitting the ball hard, straight and trying to get the winners.”

Few can dispute Brett’s wealth of experience, which amounts to almost 25 years on the ATP Tour. He has seen player’s come and go, but it is the new generation that is intriguing him the most.

“I think definitely (Stefanos) Tsitsipas and (Daniil) Medvedev are players who are coming along.” He stated.
“It’s really interesting for me to come and watch so many players and see how their improvements have been.’
“I think Felix (Auger-Aliassime) and (Denis) Shapovalov are very interesting. To see how they can actually expand in their game is the thing that I think is interesting.”

Despite his expertise, Brett has not made any indication of wanting to work alongside a rising star of the men’s game. When asked directly who would be the ideal Next Gen member for him to coach, the Australian diplomatically sidestepped the question. Although he isn’t afraid to tell them how it is.

“When I watch them, in my thoughts there is something that could be a little bit better here and there.” He explained without mentioning any names.
“I have seen some players and I know that they will need to change (their game). I have even told some of those.”

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In Brett’s home country, it is Alex de Minaur who is the brightest prospect. At the age of 20 he has already reached three ATP finals, winning his maiden title at the Sydney International in January. In 2018 he was named newcomer of the year at the annual ATP awards.

De Minaur’s offensive in recent weeks has been halted by a groin injury. Since the Australian Open, he has only been able to play in two tournaments. Reaching the quarter-finals in Acapulco before losing his opening match in Indian Wells.

“He played very well until around the ranking of 24 and he is a very good runner.” Brett commented of his compatriot. “He’s going to need to have a little bit more punch (in his shot-making). Not necessarily forcing it (his shots), but also where to play the ball around the court.’
“It is not always about chasing the ball and I think it would be a bit better if he had a bit more variety.”

At present, Brett’s work takes him to Japan. A country which welcomed their first world No.1 earlier this year in the form of Naomi Osaka. However, Osaka is mainly based in America. Brett has worked in the Asian country for many years alongside both former and current stars of Japanese men’s tennis. The most notable being Shuzo Matsuoka, who achieved a ranking best of 46th in 1992.

“What I really enjoy is trying to get player’s to become better. With the young children and trying to make it a big difference for the Japanese because there was a sort of flat level, and I think they are getting much better with that.” He said.
“They are coming up with a completely different style of what they are playing.”

Brett spends 20 weeks a year working in Japan. His current focus is on the junior players.

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EXCLUSIVE: ITF Open To Allowing Ranking Points At The Olympics, But No Change In Eligibility Policy

Ubitennis has contacted the governing body following their recent announcement concerning the change in format of the Olympic tennis competition.

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The Rio Olympic Tennis Centre, venue of the 2016 Olympic Tennis competition (image via wikimedia.org)

There is a chance that players could earn ranking points at future Olympic Games, according to the International Tennis Federation (ITF).

 

Earlier this week the ITF announced two key changes to the Olympic competition that will come into effect at next year’s Tokyo Games. The men’s final has been shortened to a best-of-three set match to keep it in line with the other rounds. Breaking away with tradition. The gold medal match had always been a best-of-five encounter since the sport was reintroduced back into the Olympics in 1988. Meanwhile, in the doubles the final set will be replaced by a 10-point tiebreaker.

The changes have come into effect following ‘issues of a congested schedule’ that were raised during the 2016 Rio Olympics. During the decision making process, feedback was generated from players on the tour and former Olympians.

“The decision was taken bearing in mind that the Olympic Tennis Event takes place over nine days and a number of players have indicated their desire to compete in all three events – singles, doubles and mixed doubles – for the opportunity to win three medals.” The ITF told Ubitennis.
“The decision aligns all matches for a single consistent format for the Olympic Tennis Event, and addresses overplay for those players who play all three events. The ITF’s decision-making process that led to changes in the Olympic Tennis Event format included gathering feedback from players, former Olympians, tournament directors and officials.’
“Taking this feedback into consideration, the ITF Olympic Committee presented a motion to the ITF Board for review and approval. These changes are designed for consistency, player welfare and to ensure players can achieve their goals as they compete for their nation in the largest and most iconic multi-sport event in the world.”

The revamp has generated a mixed response from the world of tennis with many fans criticising the move to shorten matches. It is not the first time the ITF has done away with the best-of-five format. The same has been done with the Davis Cup finals, which from this year feature 18 teams participating over in a week-long competition.

“We understand that change is not always easy and we respect people’s opinions. We expected there would be a reaction – positive and negative.” The governing body said.

The future

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One change that has failed to occur is awarding ranking points to those who participate in the tournament. A move some believe will help attract more top players to the event. During Rio 2016 Novak Djokovic called for points to be rewarded to those participating in ‘arguably the fifth Grand Slam.’ Meanwhile Latvia’s Ernests Gulbis once told The New York Times ‘I really don’t like that in Olympic Games there is no points and no prize money. It’s a little bit like tennis tourism.”

The reason why no points are given is because the ITF is separate to that of the ATP and WTA. Therefore, they have no control over the allocation of points. However, it is possible that an agreement could be achieved one day between all three.

“Currently, the WTA and ATP do not award points for the Olympic Qualification Pathway. We (the ITF) are always open to discussion on the matter.”

 

Perhaps even more debatable is the current Olympic eligibility criteria. A system that is based on a player’s commitment to their country’s Fed or Davis Cup ties. In order to be eligible, players must participate in three ties during an Olympic cycle. This is reduced to two ties depending on the length of service or the zone group round robin criteria as specified in the eligibility rule.

It is unlikely that the ITF would want to change this policy. For them, it is their top leverage used to attract players to participate in the team tournaments. Especially the Davis Cup, which has gone through a highly controversial revamp. When questioned if they would change the rule in the future, the ITF declined to give a yes or no answer.

“National Olympic Committees wishing to nominate a player who has not yet met the minimum requirement has the right to appeal.” They state. “Each case is specific, but will be considered based on a combination of factors, such as, the depth of the player field available to play for their country, injuries, history and Davis Cup / Fed Cup / Olympic competition record.”

The 2020 Olympic Tennis tournament in Tokyo will take place from July 25th.

Who won medals at the 2016 Games?

Event Gold Silver Bronze
Men’s singles Great Britain (GBR)
Andy Murray
 
Argentina  (ARG)
Juan Martín del Potro
 Japan (JPA)
Kei Nishikori
Men’s doubles  Spain (ESP)
Marc López
Rafael Nadal
 Romania (ROU)
Florin Mergea
Horia Tecău
 United States (USA)
Steve Johnson
Jack Sock
Women’s singles  Puerto Rico (PUR)
Monica Puig
Germany (GER)
Angelique Kerber
 Czech Republic (CZE)
Petra Kvitová
Women’s doubles Russia (RUS)
Ekaterina Makarova
Elena Vesnina
Switzerland (SUI)
Timea Bacsinszky
Martina Hingis
Czech Republic (CZE)
Lucie Šafářová
Barbora Strýcová
Mixed doubles  United States (USA)
Bethanie Mattek-Sands
Jack Sock
 United States (USA)
Venus Williams
Rajeev Ram
 Czech Republic (CZE)
Lucie Hradecká
Radek Stepanek

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EXCLUSIVE: Cori Gauff Talks First WTA Win, Rapid Rise To Fame And Love For Pasta

Ubitennis sat down with the teenage prodigy and her marketing agent at the Miami Open.

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Cori Gauff (photo by Chryslène Caillaud, copyright @Sport Vision)

It is not unusual for a 12-year-old to proclaim that they want ‘to be the greatest of all time’ in their sport. But when Cori Gauff said it in 2017, she attracted a rapid rise in interest and with good reason.

 

Eight days after celebrating her 15th birthday, the American recorded her first ever win in the main draw of a WTA event. Playing in the Miami Open she defeated compatriot and friend Caty McNally in three sets. Becoming the youngest player in a decade to win a main draw match on the women’s tour. In 2009 Madison Keys defeated Alla Kudryavtseva at the age of 14 years and 54 days.

“I’m still trying to process it. Like on the golf cart on the ride back, I was like ‘did this just happen?’ It’s so surreal.” A delighted Gauff began during her interview with Ubitennis. “You know, playing the same players like Serena, I’m just like can’t believe this is happening actually.”

Born in Florida, Gauff has been gifted at sport since she was a child. Participating in gymnastics, athletics and basketball prior to switching her focus to tennis. She comes from a sporting background. Her father, Corey, played basketball at Golden State University. Meanwhile, her mother, Candi, excelled in Track and Field whilst at Florida State University.

“I did basketball and track (athletics). Those were my favourite besides tennis. I was the only girl on the all-boys team for basketball. Which I actually kind of liked. On the track I did 800 meters and the 4x400M relay.” She explained.
“Obviously tennis would be the best.”

Her decision to choose tennis was a very wise one. At the age of 14, she had already been crowned a junior grand slam champion twice. Last year she won the French Open girls’ title before triumphing in the doubles at the US Open. On the ITF tour, she has only lost nine out of 52 matches played on the junior tour in singles.

It is clear that part of Gauff’s rise at such a young age is due to her maturity. She openly admits that she is far from perfect. Although she thrives on the challenges she faces.

“The other sports I mentioned you’re on a team. You’re running for someone else and that puts a lot more pressure because you’re not just playing for yourself, but also you can’t control what other people do.” She said. “Whereas tennis you are out there by yourself. You get to make your own decision. You get coaching, but at the end of the day you’re making the decision, making the plays you want.”
“I like tennis because you get to be out there by yourself and in the moment by yourself.”

The Barilla deal and family values

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Earlier this week, a deal was scored with Barilla. An Italian company famous for their production of pasta. Coincidentally Pasta is one of Gauff’s favourite meals. Saying she likes to mix sauces and cheese whilst eating penne or Spaghetti. Perhaps not the best combination for an emerging athlete, but still.

“I never saw this coming, but they’re super nice.” She commented on the sponsorship deal. “They value what I value, it’s a family company and I really enjoy family-related things. All my family is here with me.”
“I’m just looking forward to getting some free pasta.” She then jokes.

Barilla is the latest company recruiting the teenager. Last year she gained endorsements with both New Balance and Head. The combination of all three endorsements means Gauff is expected to earn roughly $1 million this year. Not too bad for a 15-year-old.

Whilst the rise to fame is one to relish, it can also be as stressful time. There have been numerous cases of athletes suffering from the effects of early fame. So how does Gauff deal with the pressure? For her, it is the support of her family that keeps her grounded.

“It doesn’t make me nervous because even if I’m playing somewhere like Timbuktu my family are always watching. I really like having my brothers at the tournaments, they kind of ease things. There might be a lot of tension because of playing such a big tournament like this (Miami), but they help minimise the moment and make things fun.”

Family plays an important role in her team too. Her father travels with her on the tour and occasionally her mother, depending on the location of the tournament. In addition, her fitness trainer is Richard Williams, who is based at FTX Wellness in Florida. Finally, coach Bobby Poole completes the team.

The only female In Team8

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It was at the age of 13 when Gauff was recruited by management company Team8, which was set up by Roger Federer and his agent Tony Godsick. Still, she is the only female athlete to be represented by them. Their other clients include Juan Martin del Potro.

Alessandro Barel Di Sant Albano is Gauff’s marketing agent. He has been the client manager of the company since November 2016 and has been supporting the teenager throughout her development.

“She was 13 and already playing at 18s level. She was already way ahead of people and we were told that she was going to be one of the next great talents in tennis.” Barel told Ubitennis.
“She has an incredibly professionally minded brain already at that age and was focusing on getting better.“

Team8 isn’t solely focused on tennis, but understandably intends to maintain their links to the sport given their founders. As for Gauff, Barel believes she is everything Team8 is looking for.

“People with integrity who clearly stick with their family. Belonging and people that share a desire to grow a brand and something bigger than themselves.” He said.

Despite her links with Federer, Gauff had never practiced with the 20-time grand slam champion. Although he did give her some ‘advice’ during the Australian Open. As to what that was, she didn’t elaborate.

“I haven’t got the chance to hit with Roger, but I had the chance to meet him a couple of times.” She said.

The future

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Now officially in the top 400, Gauff’s rise up the rankings will not be as quick as she would like. Due to her age, she is restricted by WTA rules. Under the Age Eligibility Rule, she is only allowed to play in a certain number of tournaments. A policy brought into place to prevent rising stars from suffering from early burnout. Something Gauff sees a silver lining to.

“Since I’m not allowed to play a lot of tournaments, it gives me the opportunity to have a lot of training blocks. Right now my game isn’t fully developed.” She states.
“After this (Miami Open) I am going to go to the Mouratoglou academy and train for I don’t know how many weeks.’
“Maybe play a 80K, but it depends on if I can get into the tournament. I’m only allowed a couple wild cards, so I have pick and choose them wisely.”

It is her underdeveloped game that is exciting to many. Growing up playing on hard courts, the American has already claimed a top title on the clay and is becoming a fan of the grass too.

“I played only Roehampton and Wimbledon on grass. But I like it. It wasn’t that hard to get used to. Maybe that was because of my playing style.” Gauff outlined.
“After having time on it. I prefer the red clay to the green clay. It’s more true to balance, easier to slide and you can actually see the marks (on the court).” She added.

A player not afraid to play on any surface at the age of 15, Gauff is a star in the making. On Friday she has a shot of defeating a top 20 player for the first time when she plays Daria Kasatkina.

The match will be a tough ask, but never rule out the fearless teenager.

You can listen to our full interview with Gauff below

 

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