When you’ve fought on a tennis court for six hours and 35 minutes, you can be forgiven for not being able to string together proper sentences.
Kevin Anderson is perfectly capable of doing both though – surviving a gruelling marathon semi-final against John Isner that ended 26-24 in the fifth set, and eloquently articulating his feelings following said battle.
After booking a spot in his maiden Wimbledon final by going through the longest-ever semi-final at SW19, the South African was mentally, physically and emotionally spent. Yet somehow his immediate words when he walked off court following his victory were dedicated to the man he just beat.
“At the end, you feel like this is a draw between the two of us, but somebody has to win. John is such a great guy and I really feel for him because if I’d been on the opposite side I don’t know how you can take that, playing for so long and coming out short. I apologise if I’m not more excited right now just so many mixed emotions,” a choked up Anderson told the BBC.
Headed home. I appreciate all the encouraging messages from everyone. Congrats to @KAndersonATP on the win and best of luck in the final. More importantly, thank you for your class and humility in victory. @Wimbledon see you next year. Sorry for screwing the schedule up today 😳 pic.twitter.com/qlbFcoyl6z
— John Isner (@JohnIsner) July 14, 2018
He then calmly explained how their match was yet another example of why the best-of-five format at Wimbledon, and two of the remaining three Slams, needs to be reexamined.
Those are all extremely thoughtful statements after such an emotional and taxing experience. He gave us all a lesson in grace and humility.
At 32, Anderson is enjoying the best 10-month stretch of his career. Hindered by injury woes, the Johannesburg-native saw his ranking slip to 80 in the world in January last year. Today, he is ranked No. 8 and has reached the finals at two of the last four Grand Slams. He’s made the second week at four of the last six.
“He’s playing the tennis of his life,” said Novak Djokovic of Anderson ahead of their Sunday final.
One of the tallest men in the top-100, Anderson’s work ethic and focus on fitness and recovery have allowed the Florida-based player, all 203cm of him, to insert himself among the best in the world.
During his five-set victory over Roger Federer in the quarter-finals, Anderson was sprinting to the net and running down drop shots like someone half his size. The hours he must have put in off the court to get to that level of great movement must have been astounding.
With many tall big-servers rising to the top, Anderson stands out as someone with a strong baseline game, smooth feel at the net, and a constant hunger to improve. He now faces Djokovic for a shot at a maiden Grand Slam trophy. The last time they faced off was in the Wimbledon fourth round where Anderson led by two sets before Djokovic came back to deny him the upset.
Anderson has spent 21 hours on court through his six matches so far this fortnight. Djokovic has spent just 15 hours and 34 minutes in comparison.
It’s a race against the clock when it comes to recovery for the South African, but if he manages to get his body ready for this match-up, he will give Djokovic a run for his money.
Djokovic took a third set tie-break before their match had to be suspended due to the All England Club’s 11pm curfew (2am UAE time), with the score 6-4 3-6 7-6 (11/9).
The heavyweight duo, with five Wimbledon titles and 29 grand slams between them, did not start until 8.05pm (11:05 UAE time) due to the record-breaking match between Kevin Anderson and John Isner which preceded them.
Anderson and Isner walked on to Centre Court at 1pm for a big-serving showdown which many thought might go the distance.
It did, and then some. Six hours and 36 minutes later South African Anderson had beaten an exhausted Isner 7-6 (8/6) 6-7 (5-7) 6-7 (9/11) 6-4 26-24.
It was the longest semi-final in grand slam history, and the second longest match ever at a major championship.
Isner will not need reminding of the longest, having taken 11 hours and five minutes to beat Nicolas Mahut at Wimbledon in 2010, and this latest marathon reignited the debate about introducing fifth-set tie-breaks at all grand slams.
It became the second longest match in the history of the men’s singles at Wimbledon when it passed five hours and 31 minutes. That was the time it took Marin Cilic to beat Sam Querrey in the third round six years ago.
When Isner fired a forehand wide on match point, giving Anderson a 26-24 victory in the deciding set, the match had reached six hours and 36 minutes according to official tournament statistics.
That was still short of the 11 hours and five minutes that Isner took to overcome Nicolas Mahut in their 2010 first-round match.
But it was the longest semi-final in grand slam history.
And when Isner sent down his 53rd and final ace of the match deep into the deciding set it took him to 214 for the tournament, putting him one ahead of the record set by Goran Ivanisevic on his way to the title at the 2001 championships.
“Anderson vs Isner, a Wimbledon classic – you better believe it”
— Wimbledon (@Wimbledon) July 13, 2018
Anderson now stands on 172 aces with one match to come.
Isner fell despairingly short in his bid to reach a first grand slam final at the 41st attempt. The record in that category is held by Spaniard David Ferrer, whose breakthrough came at the 2013 French Open final in his 42nd slam.
Anderson reached his first grand slam final at the US Open last year, at the 34th time of trying.
After going 110 service games without being broken during Wimbledon, the seemingly indomitable Isner finally was undone during the third set – but he immediately broke back.
Pete Sampras continues to hold the Wimbledon record for the most consecutive holds, with his sequence of 118 spanning the 2000 and 2001 championships.