Anderson topples Isner in epic semi
Former Illini player wins last set 26-24 to advance to final
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.
Kevin Anderson celebrates a point in his marathon five-set victory over John Isner in the semifinals.