As far as draws go among the men’s elite of the tennis world‚ South Africa’s Kevin Anderson could not have hoped for a better opening match at the ATP Finals than against Austria’s Dominic Thiem.
Anderson‚ 32‚ is making his debut at the season-ending finale‚ which is a round-robin competition featuring the top eight ranked players of the year.
Anderson opens his account on Sunday afternoon against Thiem at London’s O2 Arena in a rematch of their fourth-round clash at the 2018 US Open‚ which Thiem won in straight sets.
South African doubles specialist Raven Klaasen is also in the elite field with New Zealand partner Michael Venus.
No SA singles player has won the ATP Finals but in 1977 Frew McMillan and Bob Hewitt won the doubles while Piet Norval and Ellis Ferreira also won the doubles in 2000 and 2001 with American partners Donald Johnson and Rick Leach respectively. Klaasen was runner-up in 2016 alongside American Rajeev Ram.
Anderson booked his place in the elite tournament by winning the Austrian Open late last month‚ his second ATP title of the season. He has been drawn in Group Lleyton Hewitt alongside Switzerland’s Roger Federer‚ Thiem and Japan’s Kei Nishikori.
The other four players in the field – Serbia’s Novak Djokovic‚ Germany’s Alexander Zverev‚ Croatia’s Marin Cilic and American John Isner – are in the Group Guga Kuerten.
World No 2 Rafa Nadal and No 4 Juan Martin Del Potro withdrew due to injury‚ which allowed Nishikori and Isner to be included as the ninth and 10th seeds.
Overall Anderson has won six of their eight clashes‚ but Thiem has won the last two‚ which have both come this season. Thiem’s other win was in the semifinals at the ATP 1000 tournament in Madrid‚ which was played on clay.
Anderson’s six wins over Thiem‚ which started at the 2014 Australian Open‚ have all been on hard court.
Thiem made his first Grand Slam final at the French Open this year (losing to Nadal) while eight of his 11 tour titles have been on clay. But he is fast becoming a dangerous opponent on hard courts too.
Thiem also has the advantage of having played at the ATP Finals twice before‚ although his record is a modest two wins and four losses.
“I’ve learned a lot in each of the past two years and it’s such a great event‚ with so many spectators and every session is sold out‚ which is absolutely amazing‚” said Thiem.
“I’ve learned that I need to be 100% from the very first ball. You don’t get any presents when you’re playing against the top eight.
“I’ve had another great year and qualified for London‚ which remains a top priority at the start of each season.
“It means I’ve been really consistent‚ so I’m happy to be back again. I want to finish the year on a high and to take the lessons I’ve learned into 2019.”
Federer of course‚ looms as the favourite in Anderson’s group while Nishikori lost to the 2.03m South African in the final in Austria. But the Japanese player gained revenge with victory over Anderson in Paris last week.
Federer will be playing his 16th ATP Finals and looking for a record seventh win while Djokovic‚ on the other side of the draw‚ is the only other previous winner with five titles.
Group Guga Kuerten:
(1) Novak Djokovic (SRB)
(3) Alexander Zverev (GER)
(5) Marin Cilic (CRO)
(8) John Isner (USA)
Group Lleyton Hewitt:
(2) Roger Federer (SUI)
(4) Kevin Anderson (RSA)
(6) Dominic Thiem (AUT)
(7) Kei Nishikori (JPN)
(1) Oliver Marach (AUT)/Mate Pavic (CRO)
(3) Lukasz Kubot (POL)/Marcelo Melo (BRA)
(5) Mike Bryan (USA)/Jack Sock (USA)
(8) Pierre-Hugues Herbert (FRA)/Nicolas Mahut (FRA)
(2) Juan Sebastian Cabal (COL)/Robert Farah (COL)
(4) Jamie Murray (GBR)/Bruno Soares (BRA)
(6) Raven Klaasen (RSA)/Michael Venus (NZL)
(7) Nikola Mektic (CRO)/Alexander Peya (AUT)