Anderson’s US Open final appearance marks milestone for Illinois tennis

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Anderson’s US Open final appearance marks milestone for Illinois tennis

Illinois' Kevin Anderson reacts after losing a set in a quarterfinal singles match against USA's Zack Fleishman during the United States Tennis Association Challenger tournament at Atkins Tennis Center on Thursday evening.  Anderson lost the match, 6-3, 3-6, 6-3.

Illinois' Kevin Anderson reacts after losing a set in a quarterfinal singles match against USA's Zack Fleishman during the United States Tennis Association Challenger tournament at Atkins Tennis Center on Thursday evening. Anderson lost the match, 6-3, 3-6, 6-3.

The Daily Illini File Photo

Illinois' Kevin Anderson reacts after losing a set in a quarterfinal singles match against USA's Zack Fleishman during the United States Tennis Association Challenger tournament at Atkins Tennis Center on Thursday evening. Anderson lost the match, 6-3, 3-6, 6-3.

The Daily Illini File Photo

The Daily Illini File Photo

Illinois' Kevin Anderson reacts after losing a set in a quarterfinal singles match against USA's Zack Fleishman during the United States Tennis Association Challenger tournament at Atkins Tennis Center on Thursday evening. Anderson lost the match, 6-3, 3-6, 6-3.

By Gavin Good, Assistant sports editor

Former Illini tennis player Kevin Anderson’s unlikely run to the US Open final was significant in more ways than one.

For starters, the 31-year-old South African native broke through for his first career Grand Slam final.

That feat alone is impressive, and although Anderson has been successful on the Association of Tennis Professionals Tour, he has not achieved anything that can compare the tournament he just played.

Anderson, seeded No. 28, was the lowest-ever seed to make the US Open final in its history. It was by far Anderson’s best performance in a Grand Slam, and it came in his 34th appearance in one.

He’s the first player to have ties to the college level to make a Grand Slam final since 1999, when Todd Martin did at the US Open. Anderson, who starred at Illinois for three seasons back in the mid-2000s, is also the first-ever South African player to make a Grand Slam final.

For Illinois men’s tennis head coach Brad Dancer, having a player from the program go onto so much success at the professional level is monumental.

Dancer believes that Anderson’s strong work ethic is a large part of why he made the final.

“He’s so persistent, and on the ball all the time, so he stays with it,” Dancer said. “He’s really mentally tough so that gives you a chance.”

He also thinks that the three-time NCAA singles All-American seized on the perfect opportunity to have a breakout tournament.

“You’ve got a bunch of the top players in the world — [Andy] Murray, [Novak] Djokovic, so forth — that are not playing in this event,” Dancer said. “Because of that, the path he had to the final was maybe not as difficult, but it was a different cast of characters he faced. Each of those matches he played along the way, he felt like he’d either beaten those players before or he felt like he could win.”

Dancer said that Anderson’s professional success can be a tangible boost to the Illinois tennis program, especially in showing players that the college route can be a boon to one’s career rather than a waste of one’s younger years.

Dancer is pleased to see someone from the program go on to triumph at the highest level and hopes it will help Illinois’ image around the tennis world.

“It’s hopefully one of those things that has a continuing benefit as you go forward,” Dancer said. “I don’t think we’re the type of program that goes, ‘hey look at us, this is what we’re doing’, but hopefully that spreads throughout collegiate tennis and junior tennis, and hopefully people talk about it for years to come.”

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