‘It’s everybody’s responsibility’
A funny thing happened after I got to Melbourne Park. My publicist sent me a tweet from somebody I didn’t know who said tennis needs to do more for the environment, and tagged Australian Open, ATP Tour and Kevin Anderson.
I was like ‘I guess I’m the person for that!’.
I’ve been on the ATP’s player council for a long time, and I’ve always been very conscientious and passionate about the environment. But since 2018 I’ve became more aware of it and I felt a bigger need to at least try and play a small part in doing something about it.
I remember watching a Netflix documentary in mid-2018 called Plastic Oceans, which really struck a chord. And I realised that, given how international our tour is, we can really try and make a difference.
More and more tournaments are no longer putting racquets in plastic bags after restringing. It’s a small thing, but I always have the attitude that every little bit counts, and also it raises a lot of awareness.
For example, Wimbledon’s decision to ban plastic bags in 2019 was a big piece that made it into a lot of press. 5000 bags is still 5000 bags, but how much awareness it raised was probably much more important.
I’ve got a whole bunch of racquets strung here in Australia these past few weeks, but none of them have come back in plastic bags. And I’m pretty sure that’s not just because they’re mine!
Change is not easy, and there’s some challenges for sure along the way. Take plastic water bottles, for example. Given all the countries we go to, you can’t always use the local water sources, and we’ve got huge issues with drug testing and potential contamination, so bottled water is a necessary evil, in some ways.
But we can still reduce the use of plastic in other areas at tournaments – whether it’s the media centres, volunteers, spectators, and obviously recycling efforts as well – and it’s been great to see that the grand slams have really taken this on board.
There’s obviously a much deeper issue, and from an ATP side, we’ve hired some experts in this field who are doing some research and will be presenting to us. We’ll see what they suggest, what’s feasible, what we can and can’t do.
There’s a lot of players who feel similarly to me, and are starting to speak up.
Definitely, everybody seems to be on the same page with this, and everybody should be.
I would have to say that where we are right now is probably not where we would want to be; we’re a few years behind where we could have been. But we definitely have turned the corner, and if you looked at specifically the ATP Finals the last couple of years there’s been some big initiatives there and we’ve really learnt a lot from the tournament: what works, what doesn’t work.
Collectively, the little things can really make a big difference. I like the ‘re-use, reduce, recycle’ philosophy, and I live by it at home, too.
I would love by the time I retire if we’re able to implement a few more changes that make the Tour more environmentally-friendly. That’s definitely been a big project of mine and one I’m passionate about.
‘Lot of misinformation out there’
Being in Australia, with the bushfire situation here, I think issues like conservation and climate change are on everybody’s mind.
Obviously it’s a very political conversation, and there’s a lot of misinformation out there, but if you just look at the frequency of these extreme weather events, everyone can say ‘there’s things we can do no matter what extent you think humans are making an impact on the planet’. It’s everybody’s responsibility.
With regard to a policy on air quality, the larger picture is something we’ve spoken a bit about as a Tour. We have heat rules and a few other guidelines, but I don’t think we’ve really addressed the pollutants.
From our side, I hope we can fast-forward the process and the conversation to get some sort of system in place. We’re such a global sport and a lot of tournaments are held in Asia, where sometimes the air quality is very poor.
I’ve played in India the last couple of years, and the conditions were very similar to what it’s been like here. So that’s something that needs to be looked at a little bit more closely to have some guidelines for players. It’s a very tough one; it’s not easy to get very specific data points because those things can change.
Here in Australia, with the tragedies that have occurred due to the fires, there are so many things more important than air quality for tennis players. But obviously we had a little bit to deal with in terms of our playing and performance.
I’m sure the tournament would have admitted it wasn’t ideal conditions to play in, but obviously the medical staff said that it was OK. The tournament was balancing things and trying to get matches on, but I have hope and trust that the players’ health was being treated as the top priority.
Fingers crossed we won’t have too many issues over the next two weeks.
Recognition wasn’t my goal
It was an honour to receive the ATP’s Humanitarian Award in 2019. It’s always nice to be recognised, but that definitely wasn’t my goal! You could take a whole bunch of tennis players who have done just as much as myself last year in terms of efforts at giving back.
As my career has gone on, I’ve been able to create a platform for myself, and I think it’s really important to use that. My wife Kelsey and I are very passionate about this, and giving back off the court.
I think everybody can do something. Some of the superstars of our sport, the Federers and the Nadals, are obviously putting on huge charity events. Someone like myself, who obviously doesn’t have the same reach as them, is still able to put on an event, which we’ve done the last couple of years just near where we live in Florida. That’s been very rewarding for us, and hopefully it will continue to grow.
We’ve just seen a big outpouring of support for everyone affected by the bushfires here in Australia – not just with time but with donations.
At the fundraiser on Wednesday night, I did a Q&A with some of the volunteer firefighters up in one of the lounges. It was great to hear from them, it was great to see some of the biggest names in the sport happy to lend their time a few days before the start of the Australian Open. And it was fantastic to see how much money was raised.
I think tennis players give a lot. I’m sure we can do more, you can always do more, but I think a lot of players are very aware of the responsibility to really help where they can.