Anderson’s U.S. Open performance will have a major impact on the tennis world

By Jacob Singleton

Kevin Anderson’s run to the U.S. Open Final is hands down one of the greatest accomplishments by an Illinois athlete ever.

The University has had great athletes go on to do great things in their respective sports, but none of their accomplishments — except Paralympian Tatyana McFadden’s career dominance — are greater than what Anderson did over the last two weeks.

Despite losing in straight sets, Anderson’s trip to the finals may be looked back on as a one-time event that marked a change in college tennis and professional tennis for the foreseeable future.

Anderson is not going to take over the professional tennis world when Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal finally decide to call it. That’s not him. He’s the guy who thanks other tennis giants Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray for not entering the tournament.

But he is also a top-30 tennis player in the world who went to college before turning pro. American John Isner is the only other player in the top-30 that went to college, and Isner has never made a Grand Slam Final.

There is a long history of American tennis players who took their success in college and brought it to the big stage, but tennis legend John McEnroe is the last American collegiate player to win a Grand Slam final, and that was in 1984. The last one to make a final was Todd Martin in 1999.

Anderson is different than both of them because he isn’t American. The South African was a player who watched the likes of Pete Sampras and Roger Federer, among many others, join the pro circuit at a ridiculously young age and immediately dominate, but he decided that he needed to develop his game at an American college.

One of these players competing with the top players in the world is rare. One making a final of a Grand Slam, the four biggest stages in the tennis world, is unheard of.

Anderson made his decision to go to college when the average age for the 2016 U.S. Open was about 28 years old. All four Grand Slams this year were won by either Federer or Nadal. That was expected in 2009, when both were in their primes.

Anderson and Nadal are 31 years old. At the age of 31, Anderson had the best outcome of his career. He guaranteed his best finish in the ATP rankings he’s ever had. He earned a paycheck ($1.825 million) from one tournament that equaled roughly one-third of the money that he’s made in his 10-year career.

Some may call Anderson a late bloomer, and that may be fair to say. But I think he’s proving it possible for players to take their time making it to the pros and developing their game at lower levels can work in the athlete’s favor.

Sure, you can say Anderson’s draw wasn’t the strongest — as the No. 28 seed in the tournament, he is the lowest-seeded player to ever make the final at the U.S. Open — but all that is needed for a draw to be considered weak in tennis today is that you don’t have to play Nadal, Federer, Djokovic or Murray. If you miss them, you have a chance.

But that group of four is close to retirement, and Anderson’s trek to the finals shows that when those four aren’t in the picture, there is plenty of parity to tennis.

I believe that Anderson opened the door for international tennis players to see collegiate tennis as a much more viable option. I believe in a few years, the level of college tennis will have improved greatly, with stronger international players joining the ranks, using the time to develop their respective games, and then moving on to successful college careers.

Anderson may have gotten beat, and he probably won’t make another Grand Slam final in his career, but when it is all said and done, people will see this Grand Slam final as more than a mundane straight-set win for Nadal. It will show a University of Illinois alumni’s contribution to a seismic shift in the professional and collegiate tennis worlds.

@cole_Henke

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