TEMPE, Ariz. – To the untrained eye, Kevin Anderson’s run to the men’s singles final at the 2017 US Open may be something of a surprise.
With the 6-foot-8, big-serving South African and former Illinois men’s tennis player having spent a good portion of the last two years battling injuries, Anderson wasn’t on the short list of players to make a deep run in Flushing, New York, but to those that know him best, it’s exactly where Anderson has pictured himself all along.
“Kevin’s always had a vision of this and where he’d be, and to me, that’s the really cool thing about it,” said Illinois men’s tennis head coach Brad Dancer. “He’s always seen himself as a Top 10 guy and someone that challenges for Grand Slams. That way of thinking goes back to ever since I’ve known Kevin.”
Dancer, who maintains a close relationship with Anderson and will be positioned in Anderson’s player’s guest box for the final, noted that the subtle changes in Anderson’s on-court demeanor have benefited him these last several months.
“Over the summer he made an effort to be more demonstrative and using more positive affirmations out on the court,” said Dancer. “It’s great that it’s paid off in this run at the US Open, but it was relevant earlier this summer as he made the final in (the Washington Open) and quarters in (the Canadian Open). It’s been a game-changer for him.”
Anderson’s victory over Pablo Carreno Busta in the semifinals earned him a few unique distinctions. He’s now the lowest seeded player to reach the singles final of the US Open and the first player with college tennis ties to earn a spot in a Grand Slam championship match since Todd Martin (Northwestern) did so back in 1999. Should he prevail on Sunday, Anderson will be the first player with a college tennis connection to claim a Grand Slam title since John McEnroe (Stanford) in 1984.
Anderson had a decorated collegiate career at Illinois, as he garnered three All-American singles honors, two more in doubles, and won an NCAA national title in doubles with partner Ryan Rowe. He turned pro following the 2007 collegiate season, holds three career ATP titles and achieved a career-high No. 10 ranking in 2015.
“College tennis is the connective tissue for American tennis and one pathway to success for the pros,” said ITA Chief Executive Officer Timothy Russell. “College tennis creates championship human beings on and off the court. The ITA congratulates Kevin Anderson, one class act, and wishes him well in the US Open final.”
As Anderson continued to advance through the draw, more and more mentions of Illinois men’s tennis were appearing in the media, with Dancer recently fielding requests from numerous national outlets. He’s happy to talk about Anderson and his success, but also is quick to recognize the individual that got him started down his path of coaching at Illinois.
“What’s been cool for me is that all the talk about Illinois men’s tennis has led to people recognizing Craig Tiley and all he did to build Illinois tennis,” said Dancer. “I’ve been fortunate to be the steward of the ship and blessed with great players and people in my life. Kevin’s success brings a lot of pride to everyone affiliated with the program.”
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