© Hiroshi Sato

Kevin Anderson is focused on doing well in Tokyo this week in order to help him edge closer to his goal of Nitto ATP Finals qualification.

Anderson Focused On London Goal, One Step At A Time

After two strong years, the South African star is set on participating at The O2 in London

Kevin Anderson is in as good a position as he’s ever been to qualify for the Nitto ATP Finals. Last season, the South African finished 14th in the ATP Race To London. In 2015, he was 12th. But currently he sits in the eighth and final spot for the season finale, prime position to make a breakthrough.

“It’s been a focus for me throughout the whole year, a big goal of mine. Here we are in October getting toward the end of the season and I’m in with a good shot, but by no means have I secured a spot there,” Anderson said. “It’s going to be a lot of good matches and tough matches that I’m going to have to come out and win. There are guys behind me fighting for that same goal”.

So that’s why on Tuesday, when Anderson had a meeting with his coach, Brad Stine, Stine’s thoughts on the subject were simple.

“I said, ‘Look, we all know what the goal is, we all know what the objective is, so we don’t need to discuss it. We don’t need to bring it up, we don’t need to talk about it. It’s there, and we know what’s happening. But the only way we accomplish the goal is by focusing on small steps, day by day’,” Stine said.

Anderson was on the brink of defeat Wednesday at the Rakuten Japan Open Tennis Championships 2018, facing break point at 4-4 in the second set against Matthew Ebden. Perhaps if he was thinking about qualification and adding more pressure on his shoulders, he could have faltered in that moment. But the No. 2 seed battled through 4-6, 7-6(1), 6-2 to the second round, where he will face #NextGenATP American Frances Tiafoe.

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“I’ve identified that goal [of qualifying for London]. It’s not going to serve me to keep reminding myself of that goal every single day. It’s, ‘What do I need to do from a day-to-day basis’?” Anderson said. “My body doesn’t know the difference between different matches, different stages and different goals. Ultimately, it’s not easy. Obviously your mind has a sense of reality of what’s at stake. But honestly, as much as you can put that to the side, I think it frees you up and helps you play your best tennis.”

Anderson has been doing a lot of that this season, reaching six tour-level semi-finals, including a triumph at the New York Open and runner-up finishes at Wimbledon, Pune and Acapulco. The Florida resident entered the season having spent just one week in the Top 10 of the ATP Rankings, in 2015. But since cracking that elite group again on 19 February, he has held strong, climbing as high as No. 5.

“I think one of the big things is I’ve been able to play some of my better tennis at bigger stages of tournaments against some guys that I think in the past, I didn’t really allow myself to do that. I’m always working in little bits and pieces and as time goes on I think you definitely improve in those areas,” Anderson said. “But I think the biggest thing is definitely more trust in my game, more trust in my ability as a tennis player and I think throughout my career, one of my biggest attributes has been my work ethic. I think honestly sometimes what comes with that from a bit of a, if you want to call it that, negative effect sometimes, is that you’re always looking for what to improve.

“I’ve always been so willing to put in the hours. It’s ‘What can I get better?’ and ‘This still can get better’ and I think sort of changing that mindset a little bit and understanding that I really have this now. I’ve put in the hours; I have the ability to compete with anybody in the world and win these tournaments. I think that’s been a very important shift for me.”

And as simple as it sounds, Anderson just has to keep doing what he’s been doing. The South African began the week leading No. 9 John Isner — who is not competing next week in Shanghai as his wife recently gave birth — by 520 points. No. 10 Kei Nishikori was 885 points behind.

“[We’re] just trying to really keep him focused on doing the things that he’s been doing throughout the year,” Stine said. “Nothing changes, [we’re] trying to maintain a sense of relaxation and just making sure that we’re getting prepared day to day to do the things that we need to do to keep him playing the kind of tennis that has put him in this position in the first place.”

The season has not been perfect by any means for Anderson. If that were the case, he’d have no losses. But Anderson has been improving, and that could very well earn him a trip to The O2 in London.

“I would have liked to have won a few more titles this year so far but I feel like I’ve taken some good steps forward in some of the big tournaments,” Anderson said. “Even though I’m 32, I feel like a lot of the goals that I’ve set for myself are still there for me to take.”