Anderson a dangerous floater at Australian Open
He may have started the year ranked a lowly 147th in the ATP rankings, but Kevin Anderson can feel confident heading into the Australian Open.
The 2.03m beanpole spent the second half of 2019 sidelined with a knee injury, but showed no signs of rust leading South Africa's charge at the inaugural ATP Cup in Brisbane this week.
Anderson had the toughest possible reintroduction into top-flight tennis with a duel against Serbian world No 2 Novak Djokovic, but he impressed by taking the 16-time Grand Slam winner to the brink before falling 7-6 (7/5), 7-6 (8/6).
In a courtside interview, Djokovic said that he was surprised by Anderson's high level of play.
"I told him at the net that it's great to see him play this way and hopefully he can stay healthy," Djokovic said.
Anderson then thrashed Chile's Christian Garin, the world No 33, 6-0, 6-3 to help South Africa to a 3-0 victory.
But it was Wednesday's performance against flamboyant Frenchman Benoit Paire that erased any doubts over Anderson's match-sharpness.
The South African produced a stunning come-from-behind 2-6, 7-6 (7/1), 7-6 (7/5) win, saving a match point in the process.
In reality, it was the sort of match you'd expect a player sidelined for six months to end up losing.
The Frenchman twice served for the match - in the second and third sets - but Anderson's never-say-die attitude saw him remain in the contest.
Anderson was also down 4-2 in the final set tie-break, before rallying to take it 7-5.
It proved the catalyst for South Africa to win the tie, and although it wasn't enough to see them through to the ATP Cup quarter-finals, it will be a huge confidence-booster for Anderson.
Spending a long period on the sidelines often translates to rustiness on particularly the big points, but Anderson clearly refused to follow that script in Brisbane this week.
His ATP ranking will improve, and given the protected rankings for injured players, he'll have a spot in the main draw of the Australian Open.
Anderson is, after all, a two-time Grand Slam finalist having made the showpiece matches of the 2017 US Open and 2018 Wimbledon events.
He was ranked fifth for last year's Australian Open, and the fact he'll be unseeded for this year's event, will not have a lot of the top players resting easy.
There's no doubt that Messrs Nadal, Djokovic and Federer will not want to see Anderson's name anywhere near their side of the draw in the early rounds.
Anderson said earlier this week that he'd like to get back into the world's top five, and even though he'll turn 34 later this year, that goal should not be seen as insurmountable.
With the technology of modern day fitness regimes and precise nutrition, the days of a tennis player nearing his end once he turns 30 are long gone.
As for South Africa's other singles contestant, Lloyd Harris, the ATP Cup was another important learning curve.
Harris, currently ranked No 99, made great strides in 2019 by qualifying for the main draws of all the Grand Slams, including notching his maiden major win at the French Open.
The 22-year-old performed admirably at the ATP Cup, losing a tight match 6-3, 6-7 (4/7), 3-6 to Serbia's world No 34 Dusan Lajovic, beating Chile's world No 77 Nicolas Jarry 6-4, 6-4, before going down to French veteran and world No 57 Gilles Simon 6-2, 2-6, 2-6.
Harris will feel confident that he can chalk up more than a solitary Grand Slam win in 2020.
Herman Mostert is a long-time Sport24 employee...