Down a leafy drive in Armonk, hidden from passersby on Business Park Drive, lies a small, brown-shingled hut that looks out of place wedged between two inflatable domes. Inside, the staccato pop of tennis balls betrays the whereabouts of Greg Anderson, director of Armonk International Tennis Academy (AITA).
It’s a quiet location that suits Greg’s unassuming nature.
His low-key profile, steady work ethic and love for the game have been compared with that of his childhood training partner — U.S. Open finalist Kevin Anderson, who is also his brother.
Kevin is the 6-foot-8 South African with a powerhouse serve who faced off against Rafael Nadal in his first Grand Slam final this past September. It was a surprising comeback from an injury-plagued year that came on the heels of a career high ranking of No. 10 in the world.
“I see Kevin potentially taking it further,” says Greg, who trained with his brother before the first match of the tournament, then joined the Anderson entourage in the stands.
“It was obviously a great two weeks for me with a lot of special memories,” Kevin says. “It’s always great having (Greg) on the court again. Obviously, we’ve spent so much time together (there). It’s very familiar practicing with him.”
The brothers’ busy schedules (Kevin on the tour, Greg directing the academy) mean those times are less frequent.
“Nowadays, it just usually happens during New York,” Kevin says. “(Greg) gets time off work. It’s always nice. He has a great eye for the sport and he knows me well ….”
AITA is a high-performance program for junior players in northern Westchester. So, it’s no wonder that word of Greg’s connection with Kevin spread quickly there. His attendance in Queens meant the kids in Armonk got to experience a closeness to the tennis world Greg and Kevin never had growing up in Johannesburg, South Africa.
“It’s tough coming from a country where you don’t have the same sort of resources and you’re a little further from the tennis scene,” Kevin says.
That’s why Armonk was a draw for Greg.
“There aren’t many areas in the country where it’s this desirable to teach,” he says. “I feel like I’m really blessed with kids that are polite and have goals. Plus, I get to wear tennis clothes for a living.”
The Anderson brothers’ story is a lesson in the art of living a successful life in sports. Whether that means standing in front of a cheering stadium crowd at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in Flushing Meadows or instructing a new generation of talented players, Greg and Kevin have learned that living the lessons behind the sport is what counts.
“There are lots of life lessons to be learned from tennis,” Greg says, citing discipline, overcoming defeat, handling pressure and physical health among them. It’s a lifelong sport that kids will play and benefit from long after college, he believes. “The lessons and morals is what I’m trying to pass on. It’s priceless.”
That impetus to coach seems to come naturally to the Andersons.
“I’ve always felt (Greg) had a great eye for helping people learn and develop,” Kevin says. “When I can, I definitely enjoy that aspect of sharing some of the stuff I’ve acquired over the years.”
Coached by their father, the brothers’ game is stylistically similar. Both were good juniors, often in the top two or three for their respective ages. (Kevin is 18 months older than Greg.)
“Definitely having my brother to practice with all the time was a huge benefit for me and for him,” Kevin says. They started attending national tournaments, traveling with each other along the southern coast of Africa on “beautiful, long road trips,” playing finals on adjacent courts. “It was a four-year period of experience we can both draw from,” Greg says.
Eventually, they were recruited to play for college in the United States (Kevin at the University of Illinois and Greg at the University of Kentucky and later Morehead State University). “A free U.S. education is a massive accomplishment,” Greg says.
Their goal was to play tournaments in the summer then take stock of their choices and possibly give the tour a shot.
“The biggest reason I went to college was to continue developing my game,” Kevin says. “My aspiration was always to turn pro.”
The decision rested on the success they had during those summers. Players can’t accept prize money in college. Once they do, they’ve turned from amateur to professional. Kevin decided to make that leap and left school after junior year.
“I didn’t do quite as well,” Greg says. “So I decided to stay and finish school.”
“I think it was tough for (Greg) when he decided that professional tennis wasn’t going to be his destiny,” Kevin says.
“It was all about practicality,” adds Greg, who decided to finish college and not follow what he deemed a pipe dream. “My parents taught us to make smart choices and smart decisions.” They also taught him the true meaning of success.
“Being the best at what you’re best at was the message.”
So back to the brothers at the US Open and the hint of irony that Greg based his program in Armonk around Nadal’s tennis — the intensity of his work ethic, the mental toughness, fortitude and simplicity.
“Behind Kevin,” Greg confesses, “Nadal’s been my idol. Our dad was big into the mental part of the game. (It) applies to any profession… to school. You won’t be successful if you’re mentally weak. Kevin has drawn a lot on his mental game.”
That’s evident in the emotion Kevin started to express on court, outwardly celebrating his successes. At 31, he’s focusing on the positives.
“Just getting all the way to the finals this year…it’s a great achievement for me,” Kevin says. “Nadal’s one of the best players that’s ever played our sport. But I think I’ve learned a lot from those two weeks… I’m definitely very motivated to hopefully be back in that position and give myself another shot.”