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THE RETURN OF OLIVER ANDERSON



It’s not often you see an Australian Open junior champion come back to the tour after a 7-year hiatus aged only 26.  Then again, there is nothing ordinary about the story of Oliver Anderson. 


After winning the Australian Open boys championship in 2016, the Queenslander had his name carved onto a trophy alongside the likes of Nick Kygrios, Alexander Zverev, Andy Roddick, and Stefan Edberg.  


Having beaten a field that included Stefanos Tsitsipas, Alex de Minaur and Felix Auger-Aliassime, you’d be forgiven for thinking Anderson’s ascent to the top of men’s tennis was both imminent and inevitable. Instead, it flatlined.  


Speaking to The First Serve, Anderson, revealed he was “looking for a way out” of a sport he “never wanted anything from” a mere 9-months after his Australian Open title when an opportunity arose that he wishes he never took. 


Competing in the Traralgon Challenger in October 2016 on the back of hip surgery, Anderson, who concedes he was not in a good head space, received an offer from a match-fixer to throw the first set of his first-round match against a lower-ranked opponent before going on to win the match.  


After Anderson obliged and executed, the bookies noticed some suspicious betting patterns and as soon as his career had started, it was over. 


Anderson pleaded guilty to match-fixing and was fined by the Magistrates Court before receiving a 19-month ban from the International Tennis Integrity Agency.  


The ban was, however, of little consequence as Oliver had already announced his decision to retire.  


A foolish decision from a young kid. Even Rafael Nadal said at the time that the “worst part” of the Anderson story was his youth.


Almost lost to the game forever, a remorseful Anderson, thought he’d “never play again” as he entered the clothing manufacturing business and began living life as a normal man away from the spotlight; albeit while coaching here and there. 


“I didn’t really hit at all for six years,” he said.


“I suppose the last handful of years I’ve been doing what I wasn’t able to do while I was playing tennis… like surfing and playing in a band.” 


Then, after 7-years, and without any fanfare, the prodigiously talented Anderson emerged from the wilderness as his name surprisingly appeared in the qualifying draw at the Mildura ITF $25k in March this year.   


“I started just having a couple of hits, then the more I hit the more I enjoyed it. Then a couple of months past and I thought maybe I’d try to get into a tournament.”


Of course, that first match wasn’t easy.


“It was extremely emotional” Anderson confessed. 


“I had tears running down my face as I was walking out on court.  I think just being out there again just got to me, I don’t even know why. I guess I’d pushed a lot to the back of my mind and it all just came to the fore when I walked out there.


“I don’t think I even had a second where I was thinking about the match.  I was just thinking about everything else. 


“It was a whirlwind. It was good to get it out of the way”


Two months later, Anderson, who runs his own clothing label, Itami, is now in Mexico competing at ITF $15k events.  Three tournaments into his comeback, and while having to go through qualifying, the 26-year-old has amassed an impressive 9-3 record and will reappear on the ATP rankings in the coming week with an ITF quarter-final and second-round appearance to his name.  


“I still want to win as bad as I ever have,” Anderson shared, providing an insight into how one can hit the ground running after so long away from the tour.  


“As soon as I get on a tennis court I’m unbelievably competitive.”


Unsurprisingly, and even while half a world away, Anderson admits just being around professional tennis again is a “strange” feeling which, in part, is an internal battle. 


“To be honest it's been pretty uncomfortable being out on a tennis court and even just being in tennis centres again”, he reflected. “I’ve been enjoying it but I still feel pretty uncomfortable out there”


“Part of it is in my own head about what everyone would think of me. You know, ‘look at this bad kid, get him out of here’ sort of thing. It’s been a monkey on my back.  


“But so far everyone has been really supportive.”


A mature and easygoing character, the remorseful Anderson has “guilt and regret” with his “own choices” but has learned to accept that “there's always going to be people who think [he] shouldn’t be able to play again”.  And although he “gets it”, he posits “you’ve just got to find a way to get on with what you want to do.” 


With that in mind, for now, the goal is to enjoy the ride.  


“I’ll just keep doing it until I don’t want to anymore then as soon as that moment comes I’ll be out of here,” he said.  “I don’t plan on playing forever.”


“I’d love to get into grand slam qualifying but I haven’t thought much past that.


While there is, hopefully, a long journey ahead of the former Australian Open boys champion, he believes he’s starting to reacquaint himself with some quality tennis. 


“You don’t really get to face that many high-pressure situations so being out there I’m crapping myself,” he shared with a smile.  


“[Last week] was the first time I’d played a match I was happy with. 


“I haven’t felt like I’d played too great yet. I did okay in my first tournament in Mexico but I was still a little displeased with how I was playing. 


“I’m going after the ball a bit more now.  Nothing is feeling terrific but everything is feeling okay.”


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