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Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 15 December 2018

Kevin Anderson expects 'exciting match' against world No 5 Dominic Thiem at Mubadala World Tennis Championship semi-finals

South African world No 14 beat Spain's Pablo Carreno Busta 6-3, 7-6 to set up semi-final with Austrian

Kevin Anderson: “I incorporated some serve and volleys which is something I’ve been trying to do more of.” Martin Dokoupil / EPA
Kevin Anderson: “I incorporated some serve and volleys which is something I’ve been trying to do more of.” Martin Dokoupil / EPA

If form at the Mubadala World Tennis Championship (MWTC) is anything to go by, and it certainly has been in the past, then Kevin Anderson could be on for another successful season.

Anderson arrived at the pre-season tournament in Abu Dhabi following a 2017 in which he reached his first grand slam final, at the US Open, and returned to the top 15 in the world rankings following a 2016 fraught with injury.

Fit and firing, the 31-year-old South African booked his place in the MWTC semi-finals with an impressive 6-3, 7-6 win over Spain’s Pablo Carreno Busta, another player who will reflect on last season with plenty of fond memories.

“I felt a bunch of positives. My body felt good, a few of the things we’ve been working on I was able to incorporate into the match, so that was good for me,” Anderson said.

“It’s just nice to be back and competing. We’ve spent quite a few weeks training, so it’s nice to be back playing matches.”

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Predictably, Anderson’s success against Carreno Busta was built largely on his serve, either through aces and unreturnables, or by using it to set up control of the point.

He didn’t face a single break point in the first set, but claimed the all-important break himself to take a 3-1 lead following a 20 minute delay to fix a faulty net.

The second set went the way of serve before a one-sided tie-break saw Anderson close out the match with a fine cross-court passing shot.

“I incorporated some serve and volleys which is something I’ve been trying to do more of,” the world No 14 said. “Against Pablo it’s pretty tough, he’s one of the best returners on the tour.

“From a return standpoint, I wasn’t able to break too many times today, but I gave myself a couple of opportunities so that’s always a big positive. Really, my overall game was pleasing.”

Kevin Anderson of South Africa in action against Spain's Pablo Carreno Busta during their quarter-final match at the Mubadal World Tennis Championship in Abu Dhabi. Martin Dokoupil / EPA
Kevin Anderson of South Africa in action against Spain's Pablo Carreno Busta during their quarter-final match at the Mubadal World Tennis Championship in Abu Dhabi. Martin Dokoupil / EPA

Anderson’s outlook and form are in stark contrast to his only other visit to MWTC, when in January 2016 he struggled with injuries and subsequently finished sixth. He went on to have a season to forget as shoulder and ankle problems resulted in a slide down the rankings to No 67.

It couldn’t be more different this time round, though.

“For us being healthy is always our No 1 priority,” Anderson said. “That takes preference over everything, especially at this stage of my career - I’ll be turning 32 next year - and especially in an individual sport where you’re relying on your body and it has to be ready. I learnt some very valuable lessons from 2016.”

Awaiting Anderson in the MWTC semi-finals is world No 5 Dominic Thiem, who as one of the top two seeds received a bye to the last four.

Anderson has won all six meetings with Thiem but, unsurprisingly, he will not be taking the 25-year-old Austrian lightly. Their last encounter was particularly close, when Anderson fought back from two breaks of serve to beat Thiem 6-3, 6-7, 7-6 in the Washington Open third round in August.

“I’ve played Dominic quite a few times. I’ve obviously had some success against him, but they are always very close matches,” Anderson said.

“The record will show that I haven’t lost to him, but one or two points difference and it wouldn’t be as one-sided as it is.

“I think he’s one of the best players in the world, he’s proved himself, especially in the claycourt season. He’s a great competitor, he hits the ball just as hard as anybody.

“It’ll be an exciting match, I’m looking forward to it.”