Johannesburg – An all-New Zealand back-up staff, with the tough mental and physical approach of the country's famed All-Blacks rugby world champions, has lifted top South African tennis player Kevin Anderson to a new level in the current Hopman Cup team tournament in Perth.
This was the view expressed by Anderson in conversation from Australia with Tennis South Africa Media consultant Bruce Davidson after the world's 37th-ranked South African had gained impressive straight-set victories over the world's 14th-ranked American, John Isner, and Spain's 24th-ranked world player, Fernando Verdasco.
Although South Africa were beaten 2-1 by both Spain and the United States in the Hopman Cup tournament format of a men's singles, women's singles and mixed doubles game and are already out of contention for a place in Saturday's final, Anderson's improved form has been one of the major talking points in Perth.
Anderson ended a three-year association with former South African Davis Cup player Louis Vosloo as his coach in December, with New Zealander GD Jones taking over for the first time in the Hopman Cup.
In addition, Anderson has another New Zealander in Murray Hing as his fitness trainer and he spent two weeks while working out in a rigorous training routine with his new back-up staff in Aukland in preparation for the Hopman Cup and the forthcoming Australian Open grand slam event.
“Hing is respected as one of the toughest physical trainers on the ATP circuit,” said Davidson, “and Kevin told me he has never worked harder than during his New Zealand preparation stint.”
And the hard work seemed to have paid off in Perth, with the 7-6 7-6 win over the 6ft 10in Isner particularly conspicuous for the manner in which the South African swept to a stunning 7-0 advantage over the American big-server in the first set tiebreaker.
“In the past, Kevin has too often been in command against some of the world's leading players, only to let the advantage slip from his grasp, said Davidson.
“In the Hopman Cup he has looked more focussed, ruthless and fitter and less prone to making unforced errors.”
A further test of Anderson's improvement will emerge in South Africa's last Hopman Cup match on Friday against France, with South Africa's top player coming up against formidable world number eight Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, who has also been in top form in Perth.
The match against France will provide South Africa's Chanelle Scheepers with her best opportunity of recording a victory in the Hopman Cup, with the outcome quite possibly decided by the eagerly-awaited Tsonga-Anderson clash.
Scheepers put up a gallant display before losing in three sets against the United States' Venus Williams, winning the first set and having the American icon at 0-40 in the first game of the second set before losing her momentum.
The South Africans have been less impressive in the mixed doubles and will have to improve in order to beat the French. – Sapa