LONDON: Kevin Anderson stands out at 6ft 8ins (2.02m) and on Sunday he’ll stand even taller when he becomes the first South African man in 97 years to play in the Wimbledon final.
Big in stature, the 32-year-old has also had to develop a thick skin.
Born in Johannesburg, but a long-time resident of the United States, Anderson is his country’s leading tennis player by a country mile.
After a successful college stint in the US at the University of Illinois, Anderson’s professional career has been one of peaks and troughs.
But having reached his first Grand Slam final at the US Open last year — where he lost to Rafael Nadal — at the 32nd attempt, he is a poster boy for perseverance.
Hip problems saw his world ranking slump in January 2017 to 80, its lowest in seven years.
In 2016, his medical complaints stretched to ankle surgery, groin, left knee and right shoulder problems.
Should he triumph in Sunday’s Wimbledon final, he’d be the first South African champion at a Slam since Johan Kriek at the 1981 Australian Open.
Nobody can doubt that he has the guts.
On Friday, he defeated John Isner 7-6 (8/6), 6-7 (5/7), 6-7 (9/11), 6-4, 26-24 in the second longest Grand Slam match ever played.
It made him the first South African man since Brian Norton in 1921 to reach the Wimbledon final.
On Wednesday, he shocked eight-time champion Roger Federer, also in five sets, saving a match point along the way.
He has spent 21 hours on court getting to the championship match.
– Death threats –
Anderson has four career titles — on home ground at Johannesburg in 2011, Delray Beach in 2012, Winston-Salem two years ago and in New York this year.
But it has not been an easy road for a man who has faced death threats as well as being labelled a traitor for his less-than enthusiastic commitment to the Davis Cup.
“It pretty much happens after every match regardless of the circumstances,” said Anderson after a first round loss at Wimbledon in 2015 had many on social media baying for his blood.
“People who have bet on the match tend to take to social media and say very inappropriate things.”
He has attracted criticism at home for not playing Davis Cup since 2011, having featured in just five ties.
Anderson is the only South African in the top 200 but even though he is in the process of applying for US citizenship, he wants to inspire the next generation of African players.
“I really hope it’s an example of sticking to your dreams and keep believing in yourself,” he said after seeing off Federer.
“I always say I was in the same position, it’s not easy coming from South Africa, it’s very far from the tennis scene.”
Anderson is getting used to breaking barriers.
When he finished runner-up to Nadal at the US Open, he was the first South African man in a Slam final since Kevin Curren at the 1984 Australian Open.
He was also the oldest first-time finalist at a major since Niki Pilic at the 1973 French Open.
Off the court, Anderson is married to college sweetheart Kelsey and counts the likes of South Africa cricket superstar AB de Villiers amongst his friends.
He relaxes by playing guitar, his efforts uploaded to YouTube.
He is also an influential member of the ATP Players Council where high on his agenda now will be a push to introduce tiebreaks in the fifth set of all Slams! —AFP