Why Anderson Says 'Come On' More Than Ever, and Why It's Working
To compare the on-court emotions of Kevin Anderson from a few years ago to the 2017 edition of Anderson is to question if you're watching the same 6'8” big-serving right-hander.
A few years ago, a show of emotion from Anderson was the crumpling of his hand into a fist. No shouting. No jumping. The South African barely talked out loud to himself.
But this season, the 31 year old has unveiled a completely different side of himself, and to great success. The veteran says “Come on” multiple times a game. He shouts at his box with excitement throughout the match, and frequently pumps his fist to help him stay focused on every point.
The moment hardly matters: Anderson yells at himself after a regular service winner at 1-1 in the first set, or after an overhead smash in the middle of a third-set tie-break.
It's all part of his team's plan to help him stay in the moment and celebrate the good that he's doing on court. In the past, Anderson had a tendency to become too analytical and think too often during matches. His focus would wane, and points and games would trickle past him.
“I've always been pretty critical by nature about my game, and sometimes I feel that I'm maybe going a little bit too far, always thinking of little things I can do better,” Anderson exclusively told ATPWorldTour.com.
But by accentuating the positives, Anderson and his team hope to narrow his focus on only what's going right.
“It's a work in progress. Obviously he's very, very pumped up and vocal about it right now,” said Neville Godwin, who's coached Anderson since February 2014, and worked with psychologist Alexis Castorri on the idea. “It seems to be working because he's been playing great.”
Anderson employed the rowdier game at the Barcelona Open Banc Sabadell in April, reaching the third round before falling to eventual champion Rafael Nadal. But it was on the hard courts in the U.S. where his season – and his noisier style – hit full stride.
Anderson reached his third ATP World Tour 500 final at the Citi Open in Washington, D.C., in early July before falling to German Alexander Zverev. At the ATP World Tour Masters 1000 event in Montreal, Anderson made the quarter-finals, again coming up short against eventual champion Zverev.
But perhaps the biggest evidence of success from Anderson's newfound emotional game came during his breakout US Open. Placed in a wide-open bottom half of the draw, Anderson took full advantage, winning six consecutive matches at a tournament for the first time.
“I feel like it allows me to play better tennis,” Anderson said of his more emotional self at the US Open. “The faster you can reset after a point that maybe hasn't gone your way, maybe a missed opportunity, definitely the better. When you've played a good point, acknowledging that also has a lot of positive effects that increase your confidence level.”
The on-court change also came about because of a much-less celebrated time in Anderson's career. Last year, he spent much of the season as a footnote on draw sheets.
Left knee, right shoulder, ankle and groin injuries forced Anderson to retire from two matches and withdraw from nine events. He started 2017 the same way, missing the Australian Open.
But the months away gave Anderson time to think about what's worked in his career, what's helped him bring his best tennis. He thought of past matches, including his 2015 US Open breakthough against Andy Murray, during which Anderson ended a 0-7 record in fourth-round matches at Grand Slams.
Serving at 5-6 in the third set, Murray lobbed Anderson, but he chased down the lob, pivoted around the ball and, while leaping in the air, smacked a forehand winner to roars from the packed Louis Armstrong Stadium. Anderson closed his fist and punched at the air as fans screamed.
It was a rare but natural reaction from Anderson, who was playing off of the crowd and living in the moment. “You don't see that reaction from Anderson, almost never,” said commentator Jimmy Arias during the match.
The fourth-round match stands out to Anderson as a time when more emotions meant better tennis. “Looking back at past matches, when I've played my best tennis I have been a little bit more emotional, vocal,” Anderson said.
The change has taken time. The shouting was initially tiring for Anderson, but, as he's played more matches, he's felt more comfortable with it.
And, as his coach explains, the best tennis players force themselves away from what's comfortable so they can experience something better. Nadal, for instance, one of Anderson's idols and peers, remains a quiet and private person off the court but a gregarious and intense player in between the lines.
“In order to move up in tennis you have to do things differently. The old adage, if you keep doing the same things and expecting a different result, you're an idiot,” Godwin said. “[Kevin has] always been someone who prides himself on working hard and improving, and this is just another step on that journey.”
The 2017 journey might include another first-ever stop later this year. With his US Open final run, Anderson has surged into contention to make his debut at the Nitto ATP Finals, the prestigious season-ending tournament, to be held 12-19 November at The O2 in London.
Anderson enters the Shanghai Rolex Masters in 12th place, 250 points behind Carreno Busta, who is in ninth place but holds the last qualification spot, with Stan Wawrinka (seventh) out for the season because of injuries.
“It would be great... Looking back at the summer, I have had some really good results. I've put myself in contention. There are a few other guys also in contention,” Anderson said. “It will be a fight to the finish, but I missed out on it by a couple of spots a couple years ago, so I think that will definitely be one of my biggest goals for the rest of the year.”