WHAT a difference a year makes. Last summer Kevin Anderson was a member of the Andy Murray fan club; keen to see the Scot end the 77-year wait for a British men’s champion at the nation’s home Grand Slam.
Today he will be doing everything possible to prevent him successfully defending that title.
Speaking about last year’s occasion, even the vanquished finalist, Novak Djokovic, says he was glad to be part of it and have a front-line view of history being made, and Anderson can understand that.
He said: “That’s funny because watching that final last year I had the same feeling. Novak played a great match but I didn’t get the same feeling watching as I would have if he was playing in Australia or somewhere else. I am sure that has a lot to do with the amount of history at Wimbledon.
“Andy has ended the drought now but it was constantly said how many years it had been since a British winner and him being in the final again after losing to Roger the year before must have been very tough to deal with.
“I was happy to see him win it. The way so many slams have gone of late there is always so much at stake. It always comes down to the same few guys and for them each major counts on that all-time slam list.
“But you couldn’t help but hope for Andy last year. I mean, I really enjoy watching Novak playing. But at this tournament, given the history I think he had a lot of support – even from a lot of the other tennis players.”
The level of support was almost fanatical last year, with the tension ripe in the air and every rally interrupted by gasps and every point the catalyst for the kind of hollering and screaming not normally associated with the more sedate arenas of SW19.
By lunchtime yesterday, the numbers already in the Wimbledon queue had long since exceeded the limit for today’s on-the-day sales for Centre Court, which underlines what the South African will be up against when play gets underway on the main show court at 1pm this afternoon.
“He has won it now – so I guess there’s no need for him to go on and win two in a row!” joked Anderson, who does not expect the No 3 seed to be any less determined or less passionately supported 12 months on.
“I need to try and block that out. I am sure Novak wanted to win that match badly. But there was a lot of outside factors which were present. And you have to try and block them out as much as possible.”
That has been Anderson’s plan from the outset; from the moment he was first made aware that if both he and the defending champion made it into the second week, their paths would cross at the last-16 stage.
“I’m not someone who looks at the draw when it comes out,” he explains. “If I happen to hear something it is not going to freak me out or anything. But by choice I really try and just focus on the next match.”
At Wimbledon, with the possibility of meeting up with the home favourite, that was never likely to be possible.
“I got asked after my first match about a potential match-up with Andy,” he laughs. “I didn’t know what round it might be in, it was a little bit vague. But, for me it was not something I thought would be constructive to think about.
“When I played [Fabio] Fognini [in the last round] I did know if I got through and Andy got through it would be a big match for me. But when I was out there, there were so many other things to focus on. There are no easy matches out there so I have to give my full attention to every match I play. It didn’t give me any extra motivation.”
A man who is considered meticulous when it comes to his tennis, he is a more relaxed character off court. In other similarities to Murray, he honed his fledgling skills with the help of some swingball against his brother in the back garden and was guided by a parent.
“My dad taught me and my brother and before we ever stepped on to a tennis court we played hours and hours of swingball. At that age getting that hand and eye co-ordination is important. It’s funny we have that in common.”
At 6ft 8ins the South African, who studied and played collegiate tennis in Illinois, USA, presents as big a challenge as Murray has faced here so far this year. In more ways than one. While Murray has a good record against the majority of the giants on the tour, he says Anderson is a different prospect to many who pile every inch of their height into a booming serve and volley game.
Although his height means the serves bounce high and will force Murray to adjust his game, Anderson is more mobile and prefers to battle for points from the baseline. He has shown a lot of improvement on the tour in the past two years, reaching several finals, but unlike the top players, he has yet to find a way to consistently turn them into title wins.
While nerves and tension in his back have been a factor in previous rounds, the man who soothes himself between games with reading and mastering Jack Johnson and Coldplay tunes on the guitar, says he is looking forward to walking out on to Centre Court and testing himself against the two-times Grand Slam winner.
He added: “Absolutely. Even if you take the match out of it, everybody talks about the walk going out there. There are not many people in this sport who get to do that.
“And then you add it’s the fourth round, we’re into the second week of the tournament, and it’s up against the defending champion, from Great Britain! So it will be a great experience, It will be great to take it all in but at the same time I am going there to win. It will be important to focus as quickly as possible on what I need to do to give me my best shot of going on to win the match.”