ANDERSON TAKES THE LONG ROAD
South African wins marathon semifinal at Wimbledon, writes Howard Fendrich.
To say that Kevin Anderson won this interminable Wimbledon semifinal and that John Isner lost it didn’t really seem fair. To Anderson, anyway. They had played on and on, through 61/2 hours of ho-hum hold after ho-hum hold, during the second-longest match in the history of a tournament that began in 1877, all the way until the never-ending serving marathon did, finally, end at 26-24 in the fifth set Friday with Anderson claiming the most important of the 569 points — the last one.
So when Anderson left Centre Court, well aware his 7-6 (6), 6-7 (5), 6-7 (9), 6-4, 26-24 victory earned him the chance to win his first Grand Slam title at age 32, the South African said: “At the end, you feel like this is a draw between the two of us.” He continued: “John’s 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 up short.” Only one match at Wimbledon lasted longer: Isner’s 2010 first-round victory over Nicolas Mahut, the longest match in tennis history. It went more than 11 hours over three days and finished 70-68 in the fifth on Court 18, which now bears a plaque commemorating it. Friday’s fifth set wasn’t quite as long, but still, it lasted nearly three hours as the semifinal became a test of endurance more than skill.
“He stayed the course incredibly well,” said the No. 9 seed Isner, a 33-year-old American playing in his first major semifinal. “Just disappointed to lose. I was pretty close to making a Grand Slam final and it didn’t happen.”
Also Friday, the lone Canadian remaining at Wimbledon, Gabriela Dabrowski of Ottawa and partner Yifan Xu of China, seeded sixth, lost 6-3, 4-6, 7-5 to No. 12 seeds Nicole Melichar of the U.S. and Kveta Peschke of the Czech Republic in women’s doubles semifinal action.
The No. 8 seed Anderson eliminated eight-time Wimbledon champion Roger Federer in a 13-11 fifth set in the quarterfinals Wednesday. Between that and the energy sapper against Isner, it’s hard to imagine how Anderson will have much left for Sunday’s final, his second at a major.
Anderson was the runner-up to Rafael Nadal at last year’s U.S. Open. There could be a rematch now. Anderson’s opponent for the title will be Nadal or Novak Djokovic, who had their semifinal suspended after three sets later Friday evening. Djokovic, the No. 12 seed, had a 2-1 edge after winning the third set 7-6, coming on the heels of a 6-4 opening-set win. Nadal won 6-3 in the second set. The match will be resumed early Saturday. Wimbledon doesn’t use tiebreakers in the fifth set for men, or third set for women, so there’s nothing to prevent a match from continuing ad infinitum. Both Isner and Anderson said they would like to see that change. “It’s long overdue,” said Isner, who suggested changing the rule to using a tiebreaker at 12-all in the fifth set. At one point in the fifth set, a spectator shouted, “Come on, guys! We want to see Rafa!” The six-foot-eight Anderson and six-foot-10 Isner go way back to their college days, Isner at Georgia and Anderson at Illinois. In the pros, Isner had won eight of 11 previous matchups. But this one was as close as can be. There wasn’t a whole lot of intrigue, or momentum shifts. Not a tremendous amount of memorable shotmaking, either, save for some impressive return winners.
And the serving ? Well, that was something else. Isner pounded his at up to 142 m.p.h.; Anderson reached 136 m.p.h. They combined for 102 aces: 53 by Isner, 49 by Anderson.
“The effort they both put in and the performance and the guts, the way they competed — a lot to be proud of,” said Justin Gimelstob, one of Isner’s coaches.
“I feel pretty terrible,” Isner said afterward.
“My left heel is killing me and I have an awful blister on my right foot.”
Isner never got a break point in the fifth set. Anderson finally came through on his sixth for a 25-24 lead, when Isner wearily put a backhand into the net. Then Anderson served out the victory, with Isner sailing a forehand wide on match point. Soon, they were meeting for an embrace.
John’s 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 up short.
American John Isner, left, meets up with Kevin Anderson of South Africa at the net following their epic five-set semifinal match on Friday at Wimbledon. Anderson prevailed in what is now the second-longest match in the history of a tournament that began in 1877.