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Kevin Anderson: Agility Is Key

Anderson© Getty ImagesKevin Anderson focused on his agility on the baseline from an early age.

World No. 20 Kevin Anderson enjoyed one of his best starts to the season in 2014, reaching back-to-back finals in Delray Beach (l. to Cilic) and Acapulco (l. to Dimitrov). At 6’8, the South African has always had to pay particular attention to his agility and movement on court and injury prevention throughout his career.

The 27-year-old South African has won two ATP World Tour titles from eight finals and spoke to recently about how he gets the most from his body and physique on tour.

At 6'8, you’re very agile on the tennis court. Is it something you train specifically for? Are there any exercises you do?
There's a lot! I think the main thing with being tall and moving around the court is the mentality I had growing up. My Dad, who was my coach growing up, was very adamant that I learn to move and win matches from the baseline. He felt that was the way tennis was going and it's true. It's been a challenge looking to move forward, but I think the biggest thing is just that mentality of spending time and learning how to move from the back as a kid. 

As I've gotten older, it's a lot of rehab stuff. There's a lot of forces going through my joints, more so than maybe someone who's not as tall as I am. So I spend a lot of time working on core muscle groups, simulations of the balls I'm trying to hit low, wide. We do that quite a bit in the gym. So it's pretty comprehensive. You really have to look after yourself off the court.

When you get into the clay-court swing, is there anything extra you do to take care of your body?
I think the big one is you really want to get your adductors loose. You’re sliding a lot. Whichever dominant foot you are, it takes quite a bit of strain. So I think that’s the biggest difference going on to the clay. In practices you try to work a few longer points just to get your endurance and your cardio up because some of the points are longer. Moving forward, I think, is always a tricky one for guys who haven’t grown up playing on clay. I’d say those are three aspects I’d be focused on. 

What are your pressure points and areas that you need to pay particular attention to?
In my elbow I had a few loose bone pieces that came up last year. I think the main thing is just being really disciplined with your rehab stuff. There were so many exercises I was doing and it was really important that I kept on doing them. Fortunately, it was a really quick turnaround.

The knee’s been something that I’ve had to work with. It’s been with me for a couple of years and it’s just really an ongoing process of making sure I’m warming up, getting proper treatment. I think the main thing is just making sure you do all that.

There are always developments in sports science. Have you bought into dietary changes or different routines?
I look very carefully at my nutrition. First and foremost is just eating well, a lot of fresh fruit. Fortunately, growing up, both my parents were really aware of that, so I feel like I’ve got a good base of knowing what’s good for me and what’s not so good for me. I take some on-court energy stuff to keep my hydration levels up. I take some multi-vitamins and a few other things. 

When you’re travelling, sometimes it’s tough to get all the proper foods when you’re not familiar with places. It’s much easier when you have your own kitchen. The verdict’s out a little bit. Some people are not so sure, but it’s something that I’ve done and I think it’s worked for me.

What lessons have you learned about training and looking after your body over the course of your career?
It’s tough to say. You definitely learn along the way. I think everybody can go back and say maybe I would have done this and that differently. I’ve definitely learned to be more precise with my practices and trying to have a bit more quality. The ideal is quantity with quality, but that’s sometimes tough. I think I’m a bit more efficient at some of the things I work on, just by looking after my body. If you can do something in 30 minutes, I think that’s better than spending an hour. I think that’s the biggest thing.

Which ATP World Tour player…

Is the most flexible?
I think you’d have to give it to Novak Djokovic. Some of the shots he hits… It’s pretty hard to teach that, I think he’s just really flexible and it allows him to get to some unbelievable balls.

Has the best footwork? It’s impossible to pick one; I think the top few guys are really separated by their footwork. If you look at Rafa [Nadal], Roger [Federer], Andy [Murray] and Novak [Djokovic], who have dominated over the past few years, they’re definitely the best.

Has the best balance? I think I’d give that to Roger Federer. I think he moves very well. Also, Fabio Fognini somehow manages to keep his balance very well no matter where you push him. You never see him falling over.

Has the best endurance? I think David Ferrer is somebody who maybe doesn’t have the complete firepower of some of the top guys, but he’s proven himself and he’s been with those guys for a number of years now. A lot of that is just his fighting ability and he has to be able to feel fit to keep competing for every point.

Is the quickest? I think Gael Monfils just for pure speed. Some of the balls he gets to are quite phenomenal.

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