OPINION: Kevin Anderson and South Africa
It baffled me to learn that South Africa's leading tennis player Kevin Anderson is not wholly endeared by the country and that the nation has this sort of love-hate feeling about him. It baffles me because Anderson is one heck of a tennis player who is a never-ending hard worker and a very nice person.
When I asked around some more to find out what the reasons were, because it really did surprise me that he is not fully endorsed by the people who follow sport, the responses took me aback, and some cases even amused me.
I have gotten to know Kevin pretty well over the years.
I can only say he's a good guy and his professionalism stands high.
He has never, ever failed to speak with me after a win or a loss if I have needed to speak with him, whether on a personal level or professional if I have needed to discuss a match he has played for reports on EWN Sport, 702 or Cape Talk.
It's always easy to speak with any player after a win (I correct myself, that should be 99% of players, some are even irritated that their time is being wasted after a win) but the true mark of a professional is how they respond after a loss.
The likes of Novak Djokovic, Rafa Nadal, Roger Federer, Andy Murray know how to handle themselves perfectly well in both situations and I would put Anderson in the same the same category with them.
As tough as it is to answer questions after a loss, Anderson understands and appreciates that you are doing a job and he handles himself in the best light. He responds fully to questions rather than provide half-baked answers that get no one anywhere.
He, like the biggest names in the sport, epitomise the immortal words of Rudyard Kipling's "IF"; "If you can meet with triumph and disaster and treat those two imposters just the same".
I did laugh when it was mentioned to me that, sure Kevin is a very good player but many people don't like him because he married an American and he lives in the United States, in Florida. When I heard that one I did a double take and my immediate response was: "What? Are you kidding me? He has a negative mark on him because his wife is American and he doesn't live in South Africa?'
What an infantile thought process. He went to college in the USA and met a girl he is crazy about and who gave up a potential golf career to be with him. He lives in the USA because that is where he trains and most of the tournaments are, and there is a major element of convenience for travel purposes etc. As examples, Djokovic, Caroline Wozniacki and a host of players live in Monte Carlo, Federer is in Dubai, Lleyton Hewitt is in The Bahamas, South Africa's Ernie Els is based in England and Florida.
Oh and before anyone says Els spends more time in South Africa than Anderson, how many tournaments does he play there and how often does he represent South Africa in team events?
The rigours of constant travel take a toll irrespective of the class you fly in. Here is an example from when I came to South Africa recently after events in the USA; it took me 31 hours - Miami to Doha 14 hours, layover 8 hours, Doha to Cape Town 9 hours. It's about the same through London.
I heard one major reason is that he doesn't play Davis Cup for South Africa. Everyone in tennis would love to see all players in Davis Cup but heck it is not always practical for that to happen. I know he likes playing Davis Cup but there are so many circumstances and reasons why it has not happened with anything close to frequency.
Who is there to back him up in the side? Davis Cup is a team event not an individual one and there is no one else there as a support. Raven Klaasen is the only one and he is just for doubles. We all love former player and captain John Laffnie de Jager and he has tried to turn things around (he needs a medal for his efforts), but when there are not enough players to make up a team, it's like banging your head against a brick wall.
If you were a professional athlete, would you want to be in a situation of only losing because that's what Anderson would be in with the Davis Cup team? He has to watch out for his future, the life cycle of a professional player is short and you must look ahead.
Why do you want to represent an association that gives away home Davis Cup ties which is what the South African Tennis Association has done? And speaking of the federation, what did they do to support Anderson's career when he showed promise as a youngster? Diddly squat!
I hasten to say that Kevin has never been critical of the local situation but as someone who has followed the sport in South Africa and is close friends with many South African players, I have a pretty good idea of the background situation.
The bigger and more important battles should be fought with the federation, the government for being so narrow minded with sports funding and with big business for doing nothing to apply funds to try and develop tennis all over again.
The fight or love-hate relationship should never be with Kevin Anderson he still plays with RSA after his name, but it should be with those narrow minded authorities that do nothing to promote the sport in South Africa. Maybe, when that changes, then you will have the pleasure of seeing your best tennis player in the country a bit more.
Craig Gabriel is an EWN Sport correspondent, follow him on Twitter @crosscourt1