An­der­son top­ples Is­ner in epic semi

For­mer Illini player wins last set 26-24 to ad­vance to fi­nal

Chicago Tribune - - CHICAGO SPORTS - By Sam Farmer

LON­DON — They were sup­posed to be the warmup act, the un­der­card, the ap­pe­tizer to a main course fea­tur­ing su­per­stars with 29 ma­jor cham­pi­onships be­tween them.

But Kevin An­der­son and John Is­ner, with zero Grand Slam ti­tles to their name, doggedly re­fused to leave Cen­ter Court on Fri­day at Wim­ble­don.

In a 6-hour, 35-minute semi­fi­nal match be­tween NBA-sized play­ers whose serves could crack con­crete, An­der­son fi­nally won 7-6 (6), 6-7 (5), 6-7 (9), 6-4 and a whop­ping 26-24.

“I tried as much as I could to just keep fight­ing,” An­der­son said. “I take a lot of pride in that. For­tu­nately, I was able to find a way over the fin­ish line.”

That se­cured the Illi­nois alum­nus a spot in Sun­day’s fi­nal against No­vak Djokovic or Rafael Nadal, whose match was sus­pended Fri­day night be­cause of Wim­ble­don’s 11 p.m. cur­few. That match will re­sume Satur­day with Djokovic up 6-4, 3-6, 7-6 (9).

Is­ner’s name was al­ready syn­ony­mous with marathons. At Wim­ble­don in 2010, his firstround match against Ni­co­las

Mahut was the long­est in ten­nis his­tory, last­ing 11 hours, 5 min­utes over three days.

The fact that Is­ner has aug­mented his place in Wim­ble­don lore, with the two long­est matches in the his­tory of the tour­na­ment, means lit­tle to him.

“That’s no con­so­la­tion to me,” he said. “I’m not go­ing to hang my hat on that, for sure. It’s more just dis­ap­pointed to lose. I was pretty close to mak­ing a Grand Slam fi­nal, and it didn’t hap­pen … so that’s that.”

Noth­ing com­pares with that his­toric 183-game odyssey — the fi­nal set alone went 8:11 — but peo­ple won’t soon for­get Fri­day’s slog, which re­quired of­fi­cials to close the roof and turn on the lights for Djokovic-Nadal.

The 6-foot-10 Is­ner was look­ing to be­come the first Amer­i­can since Andy Rod­dick in 2009 to reach a Grand Slam fi­nal.

“I com­peted hard, that’s what it comes down to,” he said. “That’s what I have to be proud of. It stinks to lose, but I gave it every­thing I had out there. I just lost to some­one who was a lit­tle bit bet­ter at the end.”

The sig­na­ture mo­ment for An­der­son came in the sec­ond-to-last game of the fifth set when he got jammed on a back­hand re­turn, stum­bled back­ward and fell flat on his back. In the process, he dropped his racket. In­stead of giv­ing up on the point, he scram­bled to his feet, grabbed his racket high on the neck with his off hand and kept the rally alive with a left-handed fore­hand. He wound up win­ning the point when Is­ner hit a shot wide.

That tied the score at 15 and kept An­der­son in a game in which he ul­ti­mately broke Is­ner’s mighty serve. One game later, the match was over.

“When I was younger, I had el­bow surgery at a pretty young age,” An­der­son said. “Ac­tu­ally played four or five months just with my left hand.

“It was in­ter­est­ing be­cause I hit it pretty well. I was re­flect­ing that I wouldn’t have thought back then that I was go­ing to use a left­handed shot at the semi­fi­nals of Wim­ble­don.”

An­der­son came into the match 3-8 against Is­ner in the pro ranks, al­though the two played against each other in col­lege when Is­ner was at Ge­or­gia and An­der­son at Illi­nois.

“He’s one of the most pro­fes­sional play­ers on tour,” Is­ner said.

That’s clearly pay­ing off for An­der­son, who has a chance to make good on some­thing he was un­able to do against Nadal in last year’s U.S. Open and win a ma­jor cham­pi­onship.

“Maybe I felt sort of my crown­ing achieve­ment was ac­tu­ally get­ting to the fi­nals,” An­der­son said. “Def­i­nitely hun­gry to go one step fur­ther.”

The ques­tion for An­der­son head­ing into the big­gest mo­ment of his ca­reer is: How does he re­cover af­ter such a gru­el­ing match and be ready for Sun­day? That came on the heels of a quar­ter­fi­nal vic­tory over the leg­endary Roger Fed­erer that went to 13-11 in the fifth set.

“I ac­tu­ally went straight into the ice tank, then I did the stretch­ing,” An­der­son said, re­fer­ring to the Is­ner match. “I ate be­fore stretch­ing as well. Ob­vi­ously try­ing to get food and nu­tri­tion back in my body is a chal­lenge be­cause you def­i­nitely don’t feel like eat­ing, but you have to some­how force it down.

“When I get back (Satur­day), we have to see. Ob­vi­ously, I need a lot of treat­ment in terms of get­ting the body back balanced and stuff, but at the same time, sleep is im­por­tant too.”

Is­ner and An­der­son said their match should rekin­dle the de­bate about hav­ing some type of tiebreaker in the fifth set at Wim­ble­don, per­haps one if the match is tied 12-all.

“I mean, let’s be hon­est,” An­der­son said. “I was think­ing that dur­ing the match. I’m, like, ‘It gets kind of ridicu­lous at some point in time when it’s late in the fifth set, over 20-all.’ I can feel the crowd, they’re pretty antsy for us to get off the court. They’ve been watch­ing us for over six hours.”

Now An­der­son has at least a few more hours to go. And he wouldn’t trade them for any­thing.

MATTHEW STOCKMAN/GETTY

Kevin An­der­son cel­e­brates a point in his marathon five-set vic­tory over John Is­ner in the semi­fi­nals.

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