Gear Talk: Kevin Anderson, Part II
We recently spoke with ATP No. 32 Kevin Anderson from his home in Chicago. The South African native and University of Illinois alumnus went on to reveal some of the gadgets and training he employs to keep himself fit for the tour. (Read Part I of the interview, on Anderson’s racquet, string, and tension preferences, here.)
JD: How about your fitness? Have you recently incorporated any new technologies into your preparations?
KA: Not really. Sometimes I use a bungee, one of those bungee cords that offer resistance training. I find that useful. Like, I’ll go out and hit a backhand or a forehand with resistance. Because when you get rid of the resistance, you’ve recruited more muscle fibers and it definitely helps with speed. But then in the gym, just the usual stuff: the Swiss balls, the bouncy balls, the Thera-Bands, weights as well. Sometimes it just depends on what’s available at the tournament.
JD: Are you doing any other training?
KA: We pay a lot of attention to the mental side. It’s something we’re constantly working on. One thing I do use is called the Eye Gym. It’s run by a South African lady. It’s basically a gym that trains your eyes. The program has a bunch of exercises I do on a daily basis—reactions, memorizing numbers that flash on the screen, working on peripheral vision. I’ve been using it since Wimbledon last year, so just shy of a year. And I’ve found a pretty big benefit.
JD: So you’ve found it makes a big difference?
KA: Yeah, I generally do it about four to five times a week. I think a lot of people fail to work on their sight, even though it’s probably one of the most important sides to tennis. It’s also about reactions and concentration and focus, and I think it’s all very closely related. In a sport that’s as close as tennis, I feel like anything that you can do to give yourself an edge is definitely worth doing.
JD: How did you come across it?
KA: The lady that runs it, her name is Dr. Sherylle Calder. She’s South African. I think it was through a Davis Cup meeting. A few of the South African players had used her, so that’s how I was introduced. She works with a lot of different sports as well. There is an actual gym with more specialized equipment. But for people like me on the road solo, we use the online version.
JD: Have you gone to her gym?
KA: No, but I did do similar exercises working on reactions growing up in Johannesburg. Like a big board that flashes red lights and you react to it. You stare in the middle, lights flash all over the place, and you have to touch the lights. It works on reactions and peripheral vision, picking stuff up. Or like numbers get flashed on the wall, and you have to memorize the numbers even though they’re up there for only a fraction of a second. I find stuff like that pretty interesting to do. But it’s impossible to travel with that stuff.
JD: What about in college?
KA: We just did general stuff. I’m a big believer in the basics. I think there are some things that can help, but most of the stuff you do is basic hard work. Even today, there are one or two things I use—like a bungie or eye gym training—but most of my training is done just sweating it out on the court and in the gym. In college, it was always fun being part of a group. We did a lot of cross training—like Ultimate Frisbee and training in the sand—but nothing too unique.
JD: Do you have a sports psychologist or mental trainer?
KA: Nothing too specific like that. But growing up, I did quite a bit of reading on the mental side. My dad, who coached me, had us doing a lot of different types of mental work, like visualization. I read a couple of tennis books that talked about calming your nerves, belief, visualization, relaxing, breathing. You know at this stage, I think everything is mental; everyone can hit the ball well. But going back to your question, it does come up with my current coach. We talk a bit about that as well. But I think for me, the biggest thing each time I go onto the court is to challenge myself when the going gets tough. I try to compete and act in a way that’s going to give me the best chance to win.
JD: What tennis books did you read growing up?
KA: I can’t remember all the titles. One I do remember reading was The Inner Game of Tennis, by Timothy Gallwey. That’s a great book. It’s funny. My freshman year, the basketball coach at my college made it to the national championship game. And he was using that book for his basketball players as well. It was pretty interesting to see something I’d read so many years before being used for other sports as well.
JD: Do you still visualize before you play?
KA: Yeah, I do. I think playing as much as I do a lot of this stuff is so ingrained. Each time I go out there, I automatically start seeing the stuff I want to do, the improvements I want to make. And I think it’s a very important thing. They say your mind can’t really tell the difference between reality and when you perceive it and visualize it. So I think visualization is an important tool to use.
JD: What specifically do you visualize? Do you do it before or during a match?
KA: Both. You visualize before the match; you can visualize during the match. It kind of puts you in a relaxed state—sort of seeing the tennis you want to play. If you’re coming up to a big point—not that you’re actually closing your eyes and seeing every second, you don’t have time for that. But you can definitely visualize the feelings you want to have, the emotions and state of mind you want to be in.
JD: Is it like you're seeing different points you want to play?
KA: I think it’s a couple of things. You want to see yourself playing out there, depending on where you’re playing or your opponent. For me, I try to see myself hitting the kinds of balls I want to hit, regardless of who I’m playing. Just feeling free and doing what I’ve been working on. Almost like playing my perfect tennis. I think that’s a pretty unique thing about visualizing: Every time you do visualize, you visualize yourself playing great tennis. I think it helps put yourself in a good state of mind. If you’ve seen it and felt it, I think you have a better chance of executing that day.
JD: You mentioned imagining emotions during matches. So like, before a point, you’ll mimic how you want to feel playing it?
KA: If it’s a big point, that’s where I think the breathing comes into play. It’s all sort of related. Just relaxing. I don’t know if you have to visualize the whole point. But I think you can certainly see yourself—almost in the present tense—breathing, taking your time, putting yourself in relaxed state, relaxing, maybe you know where you want your serve to go, so you picture yourself hitting it in that spot, or you picture what kind of return you want to be hitting. But you have to adapt as well. I think you have to combine a few things, which I find is effective for me.
JD: Have you ever used these exercises outside of tennis, like for other things in your life?
KA: Not really. Maybe I should, now that you mention it. [laughing]