By John Delong, Winston-Salem Open
WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. – It’s been a good year for Kevin Anderson, and it would get even better if he could win his first tournament title of 2015 at the Winston-Salem Open.
The 29-year-old South African took another step in that direction on Thursday night as he roared into Friday’s semifinals with a 6-2, 7-6 (1) victory over Borna Coric in the featured evening match on Stadium Court.
Anderson, the No. 2-seed, dominated the first set and then dominated again in the second-set tiebreaker. He will meet Malek Jaziri, who beat sixth-seeded Thomaz Bellucci 6-3, 6-2 in the second evening match.
Anderson, a late wild card entry, stated bluntly early in the week that he was coming with one goal in mind – to win the tournament. After beating Mikhail Kukushkin in three sets and Jerzy Janowicz in the first two rounds, he’s dialed in and gaining momentum.
“I feel like I’m playing better tennis each match,” Anderson said. “I feel like I’m in a good position. Coming here is an opportunity to do well in the tournament and good preparation for next week as well. There’s definitely a balance between the two, but obviously I’m not focused on next week. I’m just focused on now, and I feel if I do that it will bode well for me next week as well.”
Anderson is now 6-0 in quarterfinal matches this year.
“I felt I really played well today, especially the first set. I was taking care of my serve games and putting myself in each return game, and when I’m able to do that I feel I play my best tennis,” he said. “He definitely picked up his game in the second set, but I was able to keep focused and in the breaker, I really picked it up.”
Anderson is in the middle of his best year yet on tour. He has now made six semifinals this year, with trips to the finals at Memphis and at the Aegon Championships in the tune-up to Wimbledon. He reached the fourth round at both Wimbledon and the Australian Open, and the third round at Roland Garros. He reached a career-high No. 14 in the ATP World Tour rankings earlier in the year and is currently No. 15.
A title here would be the third of his career, and the first since winning Delray Beach in 2012. He got his first tour victory in his hometown of Johannesburg in 2011.
Against Coric, the 6-foot-8 fireballer relied on his bread and butter, with serves as high as 135 miles per hour. He never faced a break point all night. The stats were impressive – 10 aces, 74 percent of first serves in, 87 percent of first-serve points won, and 71 percent of second-serve points won.
“It’s feeling good,” Anderson said of his serving. “I’m really sticking to my basics, taking my time. The ball is definitely bouncing up so I feel like the kick serve is very effective, and I thought I used that well today. Borna was mixing up his return positions quite a bit, but I was just focused on the target. I thought I was executing well, and I was really focused.”
Jaziri reached just the second ATP World Tour semifinal of his career with his win over Bellucci.
It was the 31-year-old Tunisian’s third win over a seeded opponent this week. He beat Joao Souza in the first round, knocked off fourth-seeded Viktor Troicki in the second round, and beat No. 15-seeded Teymuraz Gabashvili in the third round.
“I’m very happy for this tournament,” Jaziri said. “I didn’t win a lot of matches at the beginning of this year. I’m so happy to win four matches before the US Open. I have beat some really good guys this week so I have confidence and I hope this tournament brings me luck.”
Jaziri is currently ranked No. 88.
“I am playing good tennis,” he said. “I am enjoying the court. I try to work hard, progress, wait my chance. So I am working hard, keeping working, and I hope to continue this good feeling.”
Jaziri termed his matchup with Anderson as the battle of Africa.
“I know him, we are both Africans,” he said. “So tomorrow is No. 1 vs. No. 2 of Africa. So it will be I think a good match. I think I’ve played him twice in my career and he beat me twice, so hopefully tomorrow it will be on my side.”