Kevin Anderson has thought long and hard about what it will be like to return to Wimbledon this year as the defending runner-up. But for now, he has decided not to think about it at all.
“Obviously, I know that it will be very different from last year,” Anderson said last week from his home near Delray Beach, Fla., as he prepared to leave for London after an extended break because of a recurring elbow injury. “I’m sure there will be some special memories going back there, but, first and foremost, it’s a new year and a new opportunity. It doesn’t really matter what happened last year when you’re on the match courts.”
If the 6-foot-8 Anderson, who is from South Africa, can forget the past, many others will not be able to. Not Roger Federer, who lost a two-sets-to-love lead to Anderson in the Wimbledon quarterfinals last year before falling to him in a 13-11 fifth set.
And not John Isner of the United States or the spectators who watched the six-hour, 36-minute semifinal that finally ended with Anderson winning 26-24 in the fifth set. It was the second-longest match in Wimbledon history, behind Isner’s 70-68 fifth-set win over Nicolas Mahut in the first round in 2010.
Not even Novak Djokovic, who took advantage of a weary Anderson in the final last year, beating him in an orderly three sets.
There will be no chance of having a marathon match this year because the All England Club has decided to enforce tiebreakers at 12-12 in the fifth set for men and third set for women.
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“I think it’s a rule moving in the right direction,” said Anderson, 33, who rose to a career-high No. 5 in the world after last year’s Wimbledon. He has since dropped to No. 8 and must reach at least the quarterfinals this year to remain in the top 10.
“I don’t think it makes much of a difference at 6-6 or 12-12, but I understand why they want to keep a little bit of history. It only affects a very small percentage of matches, but for those it does, I think there is a bit more protection for the players on the court, as well as scheduling other players afterwards.”
Anderson is not the only one who refuses to dwell on Wimbledons past.
“I can’t stand the concept of ‘defending,’” said Brad Stine, who became Anderson’s coach in 2017, not long after Anderson lost to Rafael Nadal in the final of the United States Open. “We’re not defending anything. This is a new tournament, new people. If you’re focusing on the past, then you’re doing the wrong thing.”
For Anderson, much of his obsession will be with his own health. Heading into Wimbledon, he has played just 12 matches all year because of the overuse injury that he called golfer’s elbow.
“It’s a little bit tricky, and it’s taken much longer than everybody thought to heal,” Anderson said.
He won the Tata Open Maharashtra in Pune, India, in January, but, after losing in the second round of the Australian Open, Anderson pulled out of three spring hardcourt tournaments and the entire clay-court swing, including the French Open, because of the elbow.
“It’s taken time to build up the load on my serve,” he said. “In the beginning, I could only hit about 30 serves at 50 percent.”
Anderson, who is vice president of the ATP’s 10-member Player Council, said he believed that his skills still had plenty of life left, and he felt strongly that he could win a major — maybe even Wimbledon — and a Masters 1000 title. At the same time, he has become the conscience of professional tennis, supporting causes wherever he goes.
Just before the start of the French Open, while Anderson was visiting family and friends in South Africa, he took to Twitter to support a fellow tennis pro, Madison Keys, in her crusade to rid the internet of viciousness among girls. He publicly applauded her @FearlesslyGirl campaign.
Weeks later, Anderson was asked about the most inspirational women in his own life.
“Obviously, my wife and my mom would be the biggest,” said Anderson, who will have another female to inspire him when his wife, Kelsey, gives birth to a girl, the couple’s first child, in October. “But it’s funny because, growing up, I found inspiration from watching Steffi Graf and Amanda Coetzer, a South African who was in the top 10 for many years. Oh, and then there’s someone I’ve gotten to know over the last few years, Martina Navratilova.”
Anderson’s racket consultant, Jay Bosworth, invited Navratilova to attend one of his practice sessions in South Florida and make suggestions. Navratilova, a nine-time Wimbledon champion, said she could not believe what she saw.
“He’s so dialed in, so meticulous, and his work ethic and attention to detail are beyond belief,” said Navratilova, who was enthralled when Anderson engaged her in a discussion of transgender rights and policies. “That can be a blessing and a curse because there’s a difference between excellence and perfection. Kevin always wants to do more when sometimes you need to put the reins on and say, ‘Enough already, take it easy.’
“It will be interesting for Kevin when he goes back to Wimbledon,” she said. “He’s going to have more attention, and he’s going to be defending points. That can be overwhelming, so it’s important for him to narrow his focus, say no to things and to keep everything as simple as possible. For Kevin, who’s such a thinker, that may be hard to do.”