Former Illini Anderson makes impact at Vegas tourney

By Alex Iniguez

Former students of the University of Illinois do many great things worldwide, and Kevin Anderson is no exception. The former Illini tennis star reached the final round of the ATP Tennis Channel Open in Las Vegas on Sunday, losing 4-6, 6-3, 6-4 to No. 66 Sam Querrey of the United States. The Tennis Channel Open was only Anderson’s third ATP tournament appearance. Anderson took down No. 100 Evgeny Korolev in the quarterfinals Friday before topping No. 111 Robby Ginepri in straight sets, 7-6(4), 6-4, on Saturday to reach his first ATP final.

“I don’t think it really registered that I was playing at that stage,” Anderson said. “But I think it’s finally starting to set in. It’s a great feeling, and it’s something I’ve been working my whole life for. It was really fantastic but at the same time it was more exciting that I’m at a stage that I can compete with the kind of players that I did.”

With his showing in the tournament, the Johannesburg, South Africa, native moved from No. 175 to No. 121 in singles play worldwide. Since leaving Illinois at the conclusion of the 2007 spring season, Anderson has been competing on the ATP Tour and had gone winless in his two previous appearances. Anderson is the third player in the last month to survive the qualifying draw and reach an ATP final. Kei Nishikori of Japan qualified and won the Delray Beach International Tennis Championships by defeating James Blake last month, while Sergiy Stakhovsky of Ukraine won the PBZ Zagreb Indoors last week.

While at Illinois, Anderson went 80-18 in singles and 79-17 in doubles, while leading the team to a second-place finish at the 2007 NCAA National Championship. Teaming with Ryan Rowe in 2006, the duo became the third Illini doubles team to win the NCAA doubles title and followed that performance with a runner-up finish in 2007.

“I feel like Illinois tennis is part of my family,” Anderson said. “The guys, the coaches and the whole system are such a huge part of my life, and it’s something that, even though I’m not there anymore, I still feel like I’m a part of it. It’s something that’s been an unbelievable experience for me. On the court, my game has improved, and I matured a lot as a tennis player. But also off the court, the people that I’ve met and the experiences I’ve had really helped me build my character and who I am.”

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    Anderson’s rise in the rankings this week is a step in the right direction.

    “My short-term goal is to get into the top 100, with an ultimate goal of being number one in the world,” Anderson said. “This last week gave me the belief that I can compete with these guys but there is still a lot of work to be done if I want to reach my ultimate goal. It’s just all about learning from week to week and continuing to work hard.”

    Anderson had little time to bask in the glory of his second-place finish at the Tennis Channel Open, as the former Illini star is already in Indian Wells, Calif., for the Pacific Life Open. The 96-man tournament runs from March 10-23.

    16th-seeded Anderson defeated Konstantinos Economidis of Greece in the first round of the tournament, winning 6-4, 6-3 and will face fifth-seeded Robin Haase of the Netherlands in the next round. After the Pacific Life Open, Anderson will head to Miami for the Sony Ericsson Open and then to the Davis Cup to play for South Africa.

    “I’m pretty pumped up about that and I’m ready to go,” Anderson said. “After this, I’ve got Miami and then the Davis Cup in April. I’m looking forward to that opportunity. Outside of that, just continuing to work hard is the key in having success. I’m pretty excited about it.”

    Without a doubt, Kevin Anderson loves everything about tennis. Competing and improving mean just as much as winning a tournament. Fresh out of college, Anderson is living a dream.

    “I’ve always believed that I could compete with these guys but for it to actually happen I think it’s an even bigger step forward,” Anderson said. “Last week was a huge accomplishment. I’m pretty proud of last week and I’m really excited moving forward.”