The coach you should be using

For Kevin Anderson, mental training is just as important as working out.

In the 2018 Wimbledon semifinals, 32-year-old Kevin Anderson reached his second major final. But he had to defeat John Isner in the second-longest match in Grand Slam history, lasting six hours and 35 minutes, to get there.

That marathon match required as much physical tenacity as mental, something Anderson has been developing since childhood. His dad instilled in him the importance of self-confidence in sports from a young age.

After getting knocked out of the U.S. Open sooner than he’d hoped in the round of 16, Anderson is honing his mental strategies as he readies himself for a string of tournaments ahead. (First up is the Japan Open in Tokyo, which starts on October 1.) His approach: working with Alexis Castorri, a Fort Lauderdale, Florida-based sports psychologist and mental coach who has also helped Andy Murray and Simona Halep find the right headspace.

The fifth-seeded South African spoke with Furthermore pre-tournament about dealing with physical injuries and dark thoughts, and the power of slowing down.

Why did you start working with Castorri?

I look at my training from several angles, so I have coaches, physios, and trainers. Getting help from a professional in the mental space helps my game.

What’s more important: mental or physical training?

They’re equally essential. I think a lot of people overlook the mental side, but I’ve always been very aware of how important it is in any sport, no matter your discipline. You obviously still have to spend a lot of time on the physical side, but people often say that at the highest level, sports performance is 90 percent mental.

What are the biggest challenges you’ve faced in your career?

Injuries that pull me from the game. That happened in 2016, when I had several injuries throughout the year. You can see your ranking drop in tennis, and that’s not easy when you’re on the sidelines. That’s when the dark thoughts start creeping in. “Can I come back from this?”

Does that shake your confidence?

When you do come back after being out of the competitive field for a while, it takes time to find your form. Once you start training again, you get sore and can’t compete at the same level. That’s when you need to be mentally strong. It can take players a few tournaments to get back into the swing of things. It took me a few months.

What do you do to shut out the negative thoughts?

I keep as much trust in myself as possible.

Do you do anything during matches to reset when it’s not going well?

You often see people breathing heavily or rushing their movements when they’re not in the right frame on mind on the court. Slowing down helps me keep a positive mindset.