By John Delong, Winston-Salem Open
WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. – Kevin Anderson had a rough start to the summer hard court season, and that’s what prompted him to take a wild card into the Winston-Salem Open.
But now he’s starting to regain his form, and he couldn’t be happier.
The 29-year-old South African took another step in the right direction in Tuesday’s second round as he fought back to beat Mikhail Kukushkin 4-6, 6-2, 6-3.
For Anderson, currently ranked No. 15 after reaching a career-best No. 14 in June, this is a week to build some momentum going into next week’s US Open. He had lost in the first round at Washington and Montreal in the past month before reaching the third round in Cincinnati last week.
“For me, it’s definitely a great decision coming here,” Anderson said. “I never want to say it’s just a warm-up for the US Open because it’s a great opportunity here as well. I’m here to win the tournament, no question about it. It’s a fantastic tournament, I’ve really enjoyed coming here, so I feel like I’m getting the best of both worlds by being here.”
The win moved Anderson into a third-round matchup against Jerzy Janowicz, in what will be a battle of 6-8 giants with booming serves. Anderson is now the highest-seeded player remaining in the field after Aljaz Bedene knocked off top-seeded Gilles Simon 6-7 (5), 7-6 (5), 7-6 (6).
Anderson wasn’t happy with the way he started out Tuesday against Kukushkin, but he liked the way he settled down and took control of the match eventually. He termed the first set “strange.”
“It was an interesting match, really strange in the beginning, facing break points in every game,” Anderson said. “I don’t know what was going on there. Just really strange, actually. He’s a tricky player the way he hits the ball, very flat, and that really puts me down quite low and I was definitely struggling a little bit and didn’t have my serve exactly as I wanted to.
“In the second set I just tried to calm down a little bit. I had a feeling I was serving at about 80 percent, and that actually worked for me today. I played quite comfortably the rest of the match and I felt more of a rhythm as the match progressed.”
Anderson came into the hard court season after a fabulous grass court season in which he reached the finals at the Aegon Championships before losing to Andy Murray, and then reaching the fourth round at Wimbledon before losing a five-setter to eventual champion Novak Djokovic. Anderson had Djokovic on the ropes in that match, winning the first two sets.
Now he’s looking to cross that fine line between hanging with the top players to beating them.
But, again, he feels good about where he’s at right now.
“I’m feeling really good,” Anderson said. “I’ve been practicing hard, which is a constant for me, but a lot of improvements to get my game in the direction I want to go. The challenge is to be a bit more consistent, but it’s there. At this level, we’re talking about fractions of a percent. I’ve got to the level where that’s the difference, so I feel like there’s a lot to be positive on. It’s always a long journey. I’ve had some ups and downs. But I’m really feeling good. I definitely feel it’s time for a breakthrough and pushing through and really going deep in a Slam or Masters series. Each tournament I play in, I feel is an opportunity for me.”
The shocker of the tournament came when Bedene, currently ranked No. 58, knocked off the top-seeded Simon. It’s the highest-ranked opponent that Bedene has ever beaten, and just the third win of his career over a Top 20 opponent.
“It was a difficult day,” Simon said. “I tried a lot of things but I was not really successful on the court today. I still had enough chances to win this match, but it was a long match.”
Simon, currently ranked No. 11, also went out in the first round at Cincinnati last week, so he won’t be taking any momentum with him to New York for next week’s US Open.
“It’s not the best shape of my life on the tennis court right now but there is no other choice, I can just go to up there and practice and try hard,” he said. “I wish my game could be a better position right now. It’s not ideal. But you have to see the positive. We played three tie-breaks, over two hours, and I was not tired. But it’s just that my game is not good enough right now.”
Simon said he was treated great throughout his time in Winston-Salem.
“It was really good, really warm welcome,” he said. “I just wish I could have played better. I put everything I had on the court today but the game is just not good enough and he was deserving to win in the end. But it’s a nice experience here and I really wish I’m going to come back.”
In other late-afternoon second-round matches, 15-seeded Teymuraz Gabashvili beat Thanasi Kokkinakis 7-6 (5), 6-7 (5), 7-6 (3); 19-year-old Hyeon Chung knocked off ninth-seeded Benoit Paire 6-1, 6-4; and sixth-seeded Thomasz Bellucci pulled out a 6-3, 2-6, 7-6 (2) win over American 17-year-old Frances Tiafoe.