(Editor’s Note: This is one in a series of updates on players who either played in last year’s Winston-Salem Open or have committed to playing in this year’s tournament.)
By John Delong
Kevin Anderson feels bad that he felt so bad.
It’s part of the reason why he is coming back to this year’s Winston-Salem Open.
The 26-year-old South African was forced to withdraw from last year’s inaugural tournament at the last moment because of a case of food poisoning.
It bothered him that he had to withdraw, because that’s not his nature, and so ever since he has been intent on coming back this year. He was one of the first players to formally commit for 2012.
"I was looking forward to playing last year," Anderson said. "A situation like that is never easy, to have to pull out. You’ve got to look at it from the other side of the coin, from the tournament’s side. They promote the players and matches and stuff, and you don’t want to let them down.
"I definitely wanted to play. But it was one of those things where I thought it was the right thing to do. I’m looking forward to coming back this year and I just have to hope for better luck this year."
The 6-8, 197-pounder, who was a three-time college All-American at Illinois before turning professional, is currently ranked No. 30 in the South African Airways ATP rankings.
For sure, his fortunes have changed significantly since the bout with food poisoning last August.
Last October, Anderson got his first ATP World Tour singles title, winning in his hometown of Johannesburg, South Africa.
Then, he added his first ATP World Tour triumph on American soil by winning at Delray Beach in February. He beat Andy Roddick and defending Winston-Salem Open champion John Isner on consecutive days in that tournament, and eventually beat Marinko Matosevic in the final.
It propelled him to a career-high No. 28 in the rankings in mid-March, and will give him a ton of confidence going into the summer season. Only a few unlucky draws (losing to Novak Djokovic in the third round at Indian Wells, losing to Mardy Fish in the third round at the Sony Ericsson in Miami) have kept his ranking from going even higher.
He recently made it to the third round at Roland Garros (losing to Thomas Berdych), and also reached the third round of clay-court tournaments in Madrid and Houston this spring.
"Delray Beach was a great week for me, obviously," Anderson said. "It was one of those weeks where I had some pretty tough matches throughout the week, and I thought I did a really good job playing one match at a time. There were times when I thought I wasn’t playing my best and there were times I thought I was really playing well. I kept mentally strong throughout.
"Beating Andy and John two days in a row, those were big matches for me. John has had an incredible year, and he went on to make the finals at Indian Wells the next week, so you know he was playing good tennis.
"I would have liked to have done better in Indian Wells and Miami and build on the momentum, but I came up against Djokovic in Indian Wells and then I didn’t have my best match against Mardy in Miami. But Delray Beach was big for me, definitely the highlight of the year for me. Winning is always so special."
Anderson figures that at this stage of his career, a climb up the rankings is just a matter of being more consistent week-in and week-out.
"I think at this stage it just comes down to consistency and being able to play big matches and play well at the right time," he said. "The way the tournaments are set up, you don’t need to have good weeks every single week, but I think for me I need consistent results. And for me to take the next step, I need to have a couple bigger results, where you make the quarters of a Slam, or semifinals of a Masters series, maybe win a couple more tournaments.
"That’s what it takes to get to the Top 20, Top 15 or higher. I feel I’ve given myself a good platform and I’ve been working hard, so it’s not going to be easy but I definitely feel I’m getting closer to taking that step."
He said that despite last year’s misfortunes, he has good vibes about Winston-Salem.
"Everything I’ve heard from other players has been positive feedback," he said. "For me it was tough to judge because I wasn’t there that long, three or four days, but it seems like a pretty nice area and a good event. The courts from what I played on them were playing really nicely. I like surfaces where the ball bounces up a bit.
"Playing in the States is my favorite, and it’s an important time of the year, and I think it’s really good preparation to play the week before the US Open. So I look forward to going back there and hopefully I can have a better year this year."