Anderson ready for first clay test ahead of Roland Garros

Kevin Anderson has never won a clay-court tournament in his tennis career. (AFP pic)

CASCAIS: Top seed Kevin Anderson said he is ready to kickstart his Roland Garros run-up at the Estoril Open, preferably by winning his maiden clay title.

The world number eight, beaten in last year’s US Open final by Rafael Nadal, has a bye to the second round where he will face either the runner-up from Barcelona, Greece’s Stefanos Tsitsipas, or Spain’s Pablo Andújar.

South African Anderson last competed a month ago in Miami, losing a quarterfinal to Pablo Carreño Busta.

“I’m looking forward to the week, my first on clay this season,” Anderson said. “I’ve had time to prepare.”

“I took some time off after Miami, I had some small aches and pains to deal with. But my body is feeling fine now and I have high expectations.”

“I’ve never won a title on clay – that would be a top goal for me.”

Anderson, a 2017 semifinalist in Estoril, arrives in far better condition than last year when he was unseeded, ranked 66th in the world and returning from injury.

After beating 2015 champion Richard Gasquet in the quarter-finals, he fell in the next round to Gilles Müller.

“Last year I was returning, it was a turnaround week for me,” Anderson said. “It was my first semifinal in some time.”

“Now, a year later, I feel great, I’ve come quite a long way since then and improved my ranking.”

After facing Nadal in New York last September, Anderson continues to gain confidence, although he knows he is only as good as his last performance.

“Memories and experience from New York are a nice feeling, something you dream about,” he said.

“I’ve got the confidence that I’m able to perform in the Grand Slams. But each week is a different experience.”

“It doesn’t matter what happened in the past, it’s who can play better on the day. Making the final was valuable, but you still have to bring your best tennis.”

With a qualifying round wrapping up on Monday after spells of rain at the weekend, Portuguese wild card Pedro Sousa lifted local hopes with a 6-3, 4-6, 7-6 (7/4) victory over Frenchman Gilles Simon to reach the second round.

Australian Alex de Minaur prepared for his doubles date with Lleyton Hewitt by reaching the second round in singles with a 6-3, 6-1 defeat of Portugal’s Gastão Elias.

The teenaged winner forced Elias to save eight of a dozen break points in the contest lasting for almost 90 minutes before claiming his maiden ATP win on clay.

“I played a very high-level match against a high-level opponent, especially on clay,” said de Minaur. “It was tricky conditions.”

“I had to weather the storm early and played better in the second set. I’m very happy with my level.”

The Australian moved into a second-round match against British third seed Kyle Edmund.

Elsewhere, Frances Tiafoe won an all-American contest lasting almost three hours, beating Tennys Sandgren 3-6, 7-6 (7/5), 7-6 (7/4).