NEW YORK – Kevin Anderson aims to reach the US Open quarter-finals on Sunday and inspire a generation of South African youngsters to choose tennis instead of being lost to football, rugby or cricket.
The 31-year-old grew up in Johannesburg admiring the achievements of compatriot Wayne Ferreira, who twice made the semi-finals of the Australian Open.
But Anderson knows that persuading South African children to follow him into a professional tennis career will present a daunting challenge.
“My biggest hope is to inspire kids to play,” he said after seeing off Borna Coric 6-4, 6-3, 6-2 to set up a last-16 clash against 35-year-old Paolo Lorenzi of Italy for a place in what would be a second New York quarter-final.
The Florida-based Anderson is the only South African man in the world top 200, while there are no boys in the top 100 of the junior rankings.
“It’s a challenge because South Africa is very far from the tennis world. It’s expensive to travel to Europe and the United States, but I want to inspire kids to give it a go.”
Anderson, who says his favourite player growing up was Pete Sampras, “although I can’t play like him,” left South Africa at an early age to study at the University of Illinois in the United States.
He and his wife live in Gulf Stream, Florida, and their visits to South Africa often are limited to just once a year.
“We went back in December last year. I had some rehab to do. But it’s pretty far and out of the way, so it has become quite a challenge to make it,” Anderson said.
Anderson has been plagued by a series of injuries in recent times – a knee injury forced him to over-compensate so that his shoulder and legs then became a problem.
“It was a tough year, but it’s behind me,” Anderson said. “I learned valuable lessons about managing my body better, and I am feeling strong.”
The former world number 10 ended 2016 down at 67 in the world and missed the Australian Open this year.
But he made the last-16 at Roland Garros and Wimbledon, and is now closing in on a return to the quarter-finals in New York two years after beating Andy Murray on the way to the last eight.
Anderson also finds himself in the half of the draw where the highest seed remaining is Spain’s number 12 Pablo Carreno Busta.
No player left in his section has ever reached a Grand Slam final.
“The draw is open, but it doesn’t change a thing,” said Anderson, who has yet to drop a set and takes a 3-0 career record into his match with Lorenzi, the oldest player in the Open Era to reach a Grand Slam last-16 for the first time.
“I need to play well against Paolo. He’s an unbelievable fighter.”