JOHANNESBURG – They share a love of tennis - which is what has brought them to this stage of the world’s most glamorous tournament - a love of South Africa, and they even share a love for cricket.
Today Kevin Anderson and Roger Federer will also share centre stage on one of the most famous bits of sporting real estate on the planet. A couple of okes with roots - somewhat more tenuous in Federer’s case - in Joburg.
Anderson grew up in eGoli’s Northern suburbs, Federer spent time at his uncle’s house on the East Rand, building the first blocks of a professional career that would make him one of the greatest sportsmen of all time.
The patch of grass in south west London, where the pair meet in the quarter-final of tennis’ most popular event, has been Federer’s playground for the last 15 years. He’s won a record eight titles there - in 11 appearances in the final.
And while the red and white flag of Switzerland appears next to his name, he is very proud of the Rainbow Nation blood that pulses through his veins.
His mother Lynette worked in Kempton Park when she met Roger’s dad Robert, way back in 1970. In an interview with The Star in 2013, Federer outlined how the country was still special to him.
“I used to spend a lot of time here. I’ve been all around South Africa, everywhere from the coast to Kruger National Park. Always enjoyed coming back, no doubt about it. It’s one of the most beautiful countries in the world,” Federer said.
“I have a strong bond to South Africa because of my Mom. I spent a lot of time here as a kid.”
Those bonds have been solidified through his Foundation that supports numerous educational initiatives throughout Southern Africa and specifically in South Africa’s Limpopo and the Eastern Cape.
His ‘South African-ness’ has been illustrated on other occasions too, with Federer expressing a love for cricket and even at one point in 2015 - mainly to diffuse some trumped up controversy about whether he supported India or Pakistan - outlining who he backed. “I support South Africa, and everybody knows that,” said Federer.
There was a cheeky moment during his dismantling of Adrian Mannarino in the fourth round on Monday when Federer unfurled a perfect left-hander’s ‘forward defence’ - elbow high, weight on the front foot - suggesting cricket could have been a past-time he’d have been good at - he even earned the no.1 batting ranking (briefly) from the ICC for his effort on Monday.
Anderson has some more direct cricket links - he would, having been schooled at St Stithians College, alma mater of one Kagiso Rabada.
Anderson faced AB de Villiers on a tennis court, when the pair were kids, and lost. “He beat me in tennis when I was 10 or 12 years old. He was pretty good in those days. I am glad he made the switch to cricket,” Anderson said of their encounter.
De Villiers is still an avid tennis fan, and remains in touch with Anderson, and will most likely be supporting him today even though, like many millions around the world, he too has been seduced by Federer’s supreme elegance on court.
It would come as a major shock were Anderson - who performed superbly in defeating the flamboyant Frenchman Gael Monfils in the fourth round on Monday - emerge victorious in today’s encounter.
But the match-up with its decidedly South African flavour, should make for a lekker couple of hours viewing - and South Africa wins either way.