kevin anderson will make his return to individual action on Tuesday at the Infosys Hall of Fame Open in Newport. The South African revealed on Monday night after his doubles loss alongside ethan quinn that a factor in his decision to return from retreat was a visit from Roger Federer.
A couple of months ago, Anderson and a friend enjoyed a casual hit at a local club in Delray Beach. They just wanted to play tennis and it was the former world No. 5’s first day back on court in about nine months, he said. Coincidentally, Federer was in town visiting his agent Tony Godsick, whose son Nicolas Godsick is one of the best youth players. The Swiss icon stopped.
“I was hitting, just me and [my friend] just up and down in the middle. And I was like, ‘Man, I feel great,’” Anderson told ATPTour.com. “And at the end of practice, Roger Federer he was actually in town, visiting. He went out to court and it was really quite a profound experience. For me, I feel like looking back on my career, I’ve always been pretty intimidated by some of the best.
“I think coming from South Africa and not really being exposed to some of the best players in the world, I was always a bit intimidated. And it was really interesting because, in the first few minutes of our conversation, I felt that same kind of unease, I felt very astute.”
At that moment, Anderson decided that wasn’t the feeling he was supposed to get. Always known as one of the most professional and diligent players on the ATP Tour, the South African often did not fully enjoy similar moments.
“I made a concerted effort to change that and things like that. You don’t really know what you’re in for, and that has really been a great learning experience for me,” Anderson said. “If I could have done [my career] finished, I probably wouldn’t have spent as many hours with myself on the practice court, but interacting or putting myself in situations. I ended up having a great conversation with Roger and for the first time I really felt at ease and [was] have a normal conversation.
“It was fascinating to listen to him, possibly the greatest player of all time in terms of hitting the ball, and just hearing the ideas he had, it was a really cool experience. I didn’t really put that together [in terms of coming back]. I think before that I was thinking, ‘Maybe I should go back.’
The 37-year-old’s most recent tournament was last year. Miami Open presented by Itaú. Anderson then announced his retirement in May 2022. A major reason behind the decision was physical pain.
Now the South African feels good physically and in terms of hitting the ball, it didn’t take long for him to get back on track once he decided to accelerate towards the return.
“Up and down the middle, almost immediately, I felt like I hadn’t missed a beat. That’s the thing, I’ve played tennis all my life and I was moving well, and for me, the most important thing in that environment is [there is] very little stress. I’m relaxed, I’m loose, I’m really using all my capabilities,” Anderson said. “I think sometimes it gets overlooked in professional sports and only tennis is used, [it is about] how much can you extract? And the reality is… let’s take the top of the world, especially Novak, Rafa and Roger, and people always say they raise their standards. In fact, I don’t agree with that. I feel like they can use the skills they have in crazy moments and the biggest moments in Grand Slam finals, and they are very present. I think that’s what really drove them apart.”
Anderson has focused on his mental approach and his attitude towards his work. For years, he’s always tried to squeeze even the tiniest percentage of game improvement out of him.
“I never gave myself, I think, enough confidence and belief in how good it was. [of] a tennis player that he was. I think you need to put in the work and the hours, but you also need to know when you’ve done it, and have the belief that you have it and you have to let it go and just trust the process. a little bit,” Anderson said. “And for me, that was my biggest challenge. And I think I only realized that once I retired from the sport.”
The seven-time ATP Tour champion climbed to No. 5 in the Pepperstone ATP Rankings and competed in the Nitto ATP Finals. He also had at least one win against each of Federer, Novak Djokovic and andy murray.
Although he has had thoughts about wanting to work harder to further improve his progress during his return, Anderson has given himself more rest than in the past.
“I love to work hard, so sometimes it’s harder for me,” Anderson said. “But that’s just one of the many kinds of things I’ve come across and lessons I’m still trying to learn. So I think that’s why it’s been a really useful experience.”
Throughout Anderson’s career, he explained that emotionally and mentally, the intensity of the competition “was a lot.” He hopes to focus on growing from his experiences as a player and a person as he returns.
“Going back now, honestly, there are a lot of uncertainties. I don’t have a ranking, I’m confident in the possibility of getting some wild cards over the summer. So I’m going to go out there and compete for sure,” Anderson said. “But to be honest, the result is not my main goal. The main goal is to really learn through this process. There’s going to be a lot of different challenges to face along the way that I really keep my eyes focused on and there’s a lot of experiences that you come across and as much as you can continue to learn from them, I think that’s one of the keys.
“That’s what I try to do, so that’s what I’ll do as much as I can as long as I have some opportunities to keep playing.”