Ex-Illini defeats world’s No. 3

Kevin Anderson returns to Novak Djokovic during a second-round match at the Sony Ericsson Open tournament in Key Biscayne, Fla., Friday. Alan Diaz, The Associated Press


Kevin Anderson returns to Novak Djokovic during a second-round match at the Sony Ericsson Open tournament in Key Biscayne, Fla., Friday. Alan Diaz, The Associated Press

By Alex Iniguez

Novak Djokovic was looking to repeat his 2007 Sony Ericsson Open title in 2008, but former Illini tennis star Kevin Anderson had different thoughts. Anderson defeated the No. 3 tennis player in the world in the tournament’s second round, 7-6(1), 3-6, 6-4, on Friday.

Djokovic was shaky throughout the match. Up 2-0 in the third set, the Serbian was warned by the chair umpire for taking too much time between points. Djokovic won the next point but lost the next 13 points to give Anderson a 3-2 lead in the third set. Anderson served seven aces in the match and Djokovic committed 43 unforced errors, ending his bid for a repeat. Djokovic now has to wait another year to reclaim his title as champion of the Sony Ericsson Open, also known as the “Fifth Grand Slam.”

“That was a huge win for Kevin psychologically,” Illinois men’s tennis head coach Brad Dancer said. “It’s one of those things where it kind of took the shock and awe aspect away by playing Djokovic. Kevin maybe also got him at the right time, coming off a title. He probably wasn’t ready to play someone with the strength and power that Kevin has. You have to take advantage of those opportunities and that’s what Kevin did.”

With the continuation of play on Sunday afternoon, Anderson’s upset run was stopped short in the tournament’s third round by Russia’s Igor Andreev, 6-4, 6-7, 6-4. The loss, however, failed to overshadow the biggest win of Anderson’s young career.

Anderson has been on a roll as of late. The South African won his two qualifying matches in straight sets and a first round match against Agustin Calleri of Argentina, 7-6 (5), 3-6, 7-6 (4), to propel himself to the matchup with Djokovic. Fresh out of college, the 21-year-old also fared well at the Tennis Channel Open earlier this month. Anderson lost in the final match to American Sam Querry, 4-6, 6-3, 6-4.

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While at Illinois, Anderson won an NCAA Doubles Championship with senior Ryan Rowe in 2006, lost in the finals with Rowe in 2007 and also led the Illini to a runner-up finish at the NCAA Team Championships in 2007.

The 6-foot-7 Anderson, currently ranked No. 121 in the world, has lofty goals. Eventually, he wants to be where the dominant Roger Federer is now.

“My short-term goal is to get into the top 100, with an ultimate goal of being number one in the world,” Anderson said after his showing at the Tennis Channel Open. “(The Tennis Channel Open) 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. (That week) just adds to my motivation because I feel like I’m right there and I just need to keep working hard.”

And with his first win against a top-10 opponent, Anderson is on the right track.