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Anderson is proudly South African

Kevin Anderson’s remarkable surge to the US Open final will hopefully be a much-needed shot in the arm for South African tennis.

The ludicrous notion that the lanky Anderson has somehow turned his back on South Africa by chasing his tennis dream, as bleated in some quarters of social media’s echo chambers, is clearly nonsense.

Anderson learned the game by pounding away on a back garden wall built by his Dad. He honed his game at St Stithians College in Randburg (like Haydn Porteous, KG Rabada and Grant Elliott to name a few). His talent with racket in hand then took him to college in Illinois and the first tentative steps on the pro circuit, which included a shock win over Novak Djokovic in Miami back in 2008.

Anderson played for South Africa in Davis Cups until 2011. He represented the country at the 2008 Olympics in Beijing. He was loyal to the country’s team tennis needs for a long time. And all he got for that was heaps of criticism.

Like many other top pros, Anderson eventually chose to forego the Davis Cup in order to improve his singles ranking. His explanation seemed rational and sincere.

“The unfortunate reality is that the current scheduling and format would require me to make major sacrifices in the way of travel, training, rehabilitation and preparation for major tournaments, like Wimbledon,” Anderson explained in a 2015 column on supersport.com.

South Africans seem to take these things more personally than most nations, and some still believe Anderson needs to play Davis Cup for his country before he can enjoy unqualified support from his countrymen.

Bizarrely enough, this was precisely the fate of the last two South Africans to reach a Grand Slam tennis final. Kevin Curren and Johan Kriek weren’t South African enough for many people when they were firing on the pro tour in the 1980s.

Curren was already an American citizen when he played in the 1985 Wimbledon final against 17-year-old wunderkind Boris Becker. Johan Kriek won two Australian Opens back in those days, but he was also US-based, enough of a reason for many from South African shores to withdraw their support

More than 30 years on and nothing has changed. And that’s about as blinkered an attitude as it’s possible to get. Tennis is essentially an individual game. Like golf. With the odd team event thrown in. A huge number of South African golfers turned down a berth at the Rio Olympics to focus on their individual game. How is Anderson any different?

A common occurrence in South African sport is for blazered administrators to step into the limelight and somehow claim an athlete’s success. To his credit new Tennis SA boss Richard Glover resisted the temptation. In an article published after the Flushing Meadows final said Anderson’s success was largely his own.

“Both he and his family have made huge sacrifices to get him to where he is today. This is their triumph - not ours. Indeed, the reality is that Kevin doesn’t need TSA anymore - but we need him!”

It might be a push to say that Anderson’s run in New York could do the same for the game in South Africa as Andy Murray’s heroics have done for tennis in Great Britain, where tennis was a Cinderella sport before Murray came along.

We should be celebrating the fact that a South African has again excelled on the world stage. Raven Klaasen has had a few doubles successes. Lucas Sithole has won a US Open wheelchair tennis title. Tennis players from the southern tip of Africa can indeed make it on the global stage.

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