Heat waves and hard-fought wins
With the Australian Open behind me, now is an important time to reflect on my results from the first Slam of the year.
Although it was frustrating to fall short of breaking through to my best Grand Slam result, in hindsight I’m very pleased to have reached the fourth round. However, to advance beyond that point remains one of my most important goals and something I’m confident I can achieve in the year ahead.
To be completely honest, I felt my Australian Open preparation was less than ideal this year. As a result of contracting Salmonella the first week back on tour, I was still recovering physically from the illness going into one of the most important weeks of the year.
While I only had one singles match (a loss to American Steve Johnson) under my belt before taking to the court at the Australian Open, it proved a good lesson in adversity. It was pivotal to deal with the situation at hand and stay positive in spite of my physical condition.
I think this positive attitude was one of the main reasons I was able to prevail in my first round tie against the ATP’s ‘rising star’ Jiri Vesely.
Trailing by two sets is never a position a player wants to find himself in but one positive when playing the best three out of five sets is that there’s more time to strategise and claw one’s way back into the encounter.
A lesson I have learned is that it’s crucial not to let one’s standing in a match affect one’s mental outlook. When down two sets to love on the scoreboard, I kept telling myself that if I played ‘my game’ I would give myself a shot at victory. That positive thinking instilled inner confidence and inspired a memorable fightback.
It was the first time that I had trailed by two sets and still triumphed, a feat which I repeated in the third round. My mental fortitude that week was something I was certainly proud of.
While I maintained an ice-cool temperament, Melbourne was hit with a strong heat wave. This year, the weather conditions during the tournament garnered much media attention, as play, for the most part, continued despite temperatures in excess of 43 degrees.
From a personal viewpoint, I was fortunate in that the heat was not as much of a factor in the first two matches. However, it was downright scorching at the start of my third rounder.
To be fair, I’m actually a player that generally enjoys competing in the heat – I feel that I’m well-conditioned to extreme conditions since South Africa and Florida (where I currently train) can get quite hot. I made hydration a priority and I found the ice towels, which I used on the changeovers, to be beneficial.
Ultimately, in my opinion, the outcome of the 2014 Australian Open was thrilling.
We saw another Federer-Nadal matchup in the semifinals and witnessed some great upsets on Stanislas Wawrinka’s route to the finals. I’m very happy for Stan, who is playing some phenomenal tennis right now. It’s exciting to have players other than the ‘Big Four’ winning Slams.
On the doubles side of the draw, I was incredibly proud of my countryman Raven Klaasen, who made it to the finals with his American partner Eric Butorac.
After suffering a serious injury earlier on in his career, Raven feared that he might never play competitive tennis again. Thus, to see him competing in a Grand Slam final is truly one of tennis’s greatest comeback stories.
At the conclusion of my commitments in Australia, I returned to Delray Beach, Florida, and I decided to take a few days off from tennis.
During this brief hiatus, I’ve spoken to a few doctors about treatment options for some ongoing knee pain I’m experiencing. It’s important to stay as healthy as possible in this sport and keeping injuries at bay remains my No 1 priority.
Post my recovery period, time will be spent improving upon my strength and physical conditioning. Meanwhile, from a tennis perspective, the point of focus will be on balance and movement.
My coach for the next few months, Neville Godwin, arrives next week and we’ll be looking ahead to the swing of North American hard court tournaments including Delray Beach, Acapulco, Indian Wells and Miami.
This is one of my favourite times of the year on tour and I’m excited for what lies ahead!
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