OPINION: We need to talk about Kevin, his dad, and his crocked arm
Anderson has made a lot of sacrifices on his way to the top of tennis
You had to feel for Kevin Anderson. Not for taking 21 hours and one minute to reach the Wimbledon final only to crash and burn against Novak Djokovic in two hours and 19 minutes, less than a 10th of the time he spent chasing his dream on the most famous lawns in sport.
Not for blowing his chance to catch that dream thanks to uncharacteristic nervousness and fatigue after taking six hours and 36 minutes – and 99 games – to overcome John Isner in their semifinal.
Not for having fewer than 40 hours to recover from that match to face Djokovic, who after Roger Federer is the most complete player in tennis.
Not for beating Federer in the quarterfinals, where he survived a match point to win another five-setter.
Not for being able to take with him on his travels his wife, Kelsey O’Neal, who organises and manages almost everything he might need.
Not for having his dog, Lady Kady, as part of his touring entourage.
Certainly not for taking his career earnings to US$13,143,481. That’s R173,493,949 in Monday’s money. And 20 cents.Why you had to feel for Anderson became apparent from his explanation for how, at 24-24 and love-15 in the fifth set against Isner, having slipped and fallen over in returning a booming serve, he somehow got to his feet and picked up his racquet in time to play his a forehand – using his left hand.
“I’ve hit a lot of left-handed balls throughout my life,” Anderson told a television interviewer after the match.
“I had surgery when I was quite young and my dad, who coached me growing up and has done right throughout my career, he was like: ‘Let’s play left-handed’.”
The operation was done on Anderson’s right elbow and might have kept him off the court for several months.
“I didn’t know that was going to come into play at this point in my career, but that was a vital point for me in the end,” Anderson said.
Tennis nerds were agog with admiration. Others would have heard something darker in those words.
Pause. Rewind: “I had surgery when I was quite young and my dad, who coached me growing up and right throughout my career, he was like: ‘Let’s play left-handed’.”
So, the kid’s had an operation and his father sends him right back out there to hit the ball using his wrong hand?Perhaps after watching movies featuring heartless sergeant majors?
What kind coaching is that?
What kind of parenting is that?The kind that, if you’ve had anything to do with junior sport from the outside – for instance, as a sports journalist – you’ve seen too many times.
Swimming parents are the worst, perhaps because they harbour some primordial anxiety about their children being in water and thus being in danger of drowning.
Or perhaps because they can’t stand the possibility of some other kid being faster than theirs; that that would be peeing in their own corner of the gene pool.
I made the mistake, years ago, of talking to a promising swimmer’s mother in the course of writing a feature on her son, who was on a scholarship in the US.
Next thing I knew, I opened my front door to see her in a car parked across the road – how she knew where I lived I never found out – and months after the piece was published she was knocking at the same door with a Christmas present.
Any individual sport is a breeding environment for these sorts of parents. Team sports manage to avoid them, mostly, but you only have to watch a schools rugby match and see all the touchline coaching that goes on – much of it not publishable on a family website – to know that isn’t generally true.It could, of course, be that Michael Anderson was being a good father and a good coach; that a week or two after the operation he had a frustrated youngster on his hands and, having waited for his elbow to heal to some degree, sent him back onto the court under strict orders to be careful and under no circumstances to use his right arm.
It could be exactly that, and you hope it is. But you still have to feel for Anderson. What kind of kid has nothing in his life but tennis, who is presumably willing to risk further injury — from, say, a fall — rather than stay off the court and read Gordon Forbes’s A Handful of Summers?
Again, it might not be like that: Anderson seems a well-adjusted adult with a lot to live for beyond the white lines.
But plenty of tennis players are not. Watch them plod through their press conferences – heads down, shoulders terminally hunched and offering monosyllabic answers – and it’s obvious that they’re socially inept zombies.
Even those in their 20s and 30s look like nothing so much as sullen children who have been told they aren’t allowed to swing a racquet until their elbow is strong enough.
Maybe they should go out there and try the other arm …