KEVIN ANDERSON was firmly in Andy Murray's corner when it came to last year's Wimbledon final, but now the 6ft 8in South African hopes to put him in one.
Given the 77 years of All England Club angst which had preceded it the Scot was a popular winner of this title 12 months ago, not least with the affable 28-year-old from Johannesburg. The No.20 seed, who resides in Delray Beach, Florida, is an occasional Murray practice partner who is on good terms with the Scot's fitness trainer Jez Green and his former coach Ivan Lendl.
But he is bracing himself to become seriously unpopular on Centre Court this afternoon. For all those steepling serves and thudding shots from the baseline, victory against the defending champion would bring about his maiden grand slam quarter-final.
Loading article content
"I was happy to see him win it," said Anderson. "I really enjoy watching Novak [Djokovic] playing. But you couldn't help but hope for Andy last year. At this tournament, given the history, I think he had a lot of support - even from a lot of the other tennis players. But he has won it now - so I guess there's no need for him to go on and win two in a row."
Anderson's only previous exposure to a main arena at one of the major titles also came against Murray, during the 2010 Australian Open. While the Scot dispensed with him in short order, the competitive head-to-head between the two men is level by dint of a tour win for Anderson in Canada one year later. Anderson will savour the experience of encountering a home defending champion on Centre Court, but his ambitions are not limited to that.
"Everybody talks about the walk going out there," he said. "There are not many people in this sport who get to do that. And then you add it's the fourth round, we're into the second week of the tournament, and it's up against the defending champion, from Great Britain. It will be great to take it all in. But it will also be important to focus as quickly as possible on what I need to do to win the match."
It is not just the fact they spend a good chunk of the year training in Florida that binds these two men. Like the Murray brothers in the back garden in Dunblane, Anderson and his younger brother Gregory learned the rudiments of the sport by playing Swingball. You dread to think how many times that poor little ball would rotate around the shaft if a fully grown Anderson hit it these days.
"My dad taught me and my brother, and before we ever stepped on to a tennis court we played hours and hours of Swingball," said Anderson. "At that age getting that hand eye co-ordination is important. It's funny we have that in common."
If mother Judy was the tennis driving force in the Murray household, the same goes for Anderson's father Michael, a retired engineer. He gets the credit for imbuing the South African No.1 with his formidable work ethic, sometimes dragging the two siblings out for practice on Christmas Day.
"Tennis is such a skill-based sport that you have to put in the time while you are quite young and your body is still figuring itself out," Anderson said. "It takes time, hundreds of hours of doing the same thing over and over to get that muscle memory.
"I pride myself that I started so young. My dad instilled a very hard work ethic in my brother and myself. And I think that has been one of my biggest attributes in being successful as a tennis pro."
There was a period where it seemed as though Anderson may follow his father's footsteps more literally, to become a middle-distance runner, but now the South African will have to go the distance if he is to outrun the Scot. "My dad used to do that when he was younger and he was a good runner," said Anderson. "He tried to impart on us how important it is to be fit. When you are out there playing three and five sets you need to feel you can last. That's the biggest battle, especially when playing the tough guys."
For all that brutal, almost robotic, motion, it would be wrong to paint Anderson as some kind of automaton. A relaxed presence off the court, he has recently begun to learn the guitar, and is being lined up for a guest spot with the Bryan brothers' band, that of men's doubles top seeds Bob and Mike.
"I have a good teacher, fortunately, because the Bryans play a lot and Mike plays guitar," Anderson said. "Every time I see him we talk about music and hopefully some time I can get up and play with those guys. I play a few Jack Johnson songs, they would be my 'go to', and a few Coldplay songs. I hope to be able to expand that a little bit, though."
There would be no finer way to enhance his repertoire than by producing a virtuoso performance on the big stage at Wimbledon.