Anderson: ‘It Was a War of Attrition’
Kevin Anderson’s record-breaking semi-final victory against John Isner at Wimbledon created memories to last a lifetime for players and fans alike. Six hours and 36 minutes of play on tennis’ greatest stage, Centre Court at the All England Club, will do that.
But there comes a point for the two men competing on the court — when holds become a blur and games add up deep in the fifth set — that it becomes less of a tennis match and more of a battle of wills.
“You’re really in a war of attrition out there. It’s way beyond a normal tennis match or tactics. I mean, it’s just who’s going to outlast each other,” Anderson said. “I’m ecstatic to be through to the finals. At the same time you feel like it should be a draw. But somebody has to win.”
The 32-year-old was facing an opponent who was no stranger to marathon matches — Isner won the longest match in tennis history at SW19 nine years ago, his victory against Nicolas Mahut lasting more than 11 hours over three days. The American also held his first 110 service games of the fortnight before the eighth seed finally broke for the first time in the third set, so earning a crucial break in the decider would not be easy. And it didn’t help that his quarter-final triumph went to 13-11 in the fifth set against Roger Federer.
So how was Anderson able to become the first South African since Brian Norton in 1921 to reach the Wimbledon final?
“I don’t know what got me through today’s match other than just a will to try to succeed, keep pushing myself,” Anderson said. “I tried as much as I could to just keep fighting. I take a lot of pride in that. Fortunately, I was able to find a way over the finish line.”
Many times it takes a bit of luck to pull through a match like this. But in the case of this year’s New York Open champion, an unexpected talent played a key role. Anderson says that when he was young, he had elbow surgery. So for four or five months, he played only with his left hand.
That came in handy with Isner serving at 24-24 in the fifth set at 0/15. Anderson slipped trying to get out of the way of a body serve to hit a backhand return, falling to the hallowed grass. When he got up, he hit a left-handed forehand out of desperation, and ended up winning the point. Anderson would break in that game and then hold for the victory.
“A lot of guys with two hands can’t hit the ball left-handed,” Anderson said. “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 left-handed shot at the semi-finals of Wimbledon.”
Before last year’s US Open, Anderson had advanced to just one major quarter-final. As recently as March 2017, the South African was No. 79 in the ATP Rankings due to injury. And now, he is into his second Grand Slam championship match. On the surface, it is an incredible rise. So how has the four-time ATP World Tour titlist done it?
“I don’t feel like there’s massive secrets. I work really hard. I have good goals. I’m always looking to improve. I’ve got a great team behind me. I have a lot of support,” Anderson said. “I feel like some of my best tennis I feel is still ahead of me. Look at the game, I think there’s still areas I can do better, improve both physically, mentally, emotionally… Hopefully I’ll be able to keep it up because there’s still a lot that I want to play for in terms of achievements.”
In the Flushing Meadows final, Anderson lost in straight sets against Nadal, who is down two sets to one in Wimbledon’s other semi-final against three-time champion Novak Djokovic, with play suspended due to curfew. In New York, the World No. 8 took in the moment. But this time around, his focus is on one thing only: winning.
“At the US Open I was in the finals. Maybe I felt sort of my crowning achievement was actually getting to the finals,” Anderson said. “[I’m] definitely hungry to go one step further.”
So while Friday’s epic will stay with Anderson forever, it’s not time to celebrate quite yet.
“I’m trying to put that to the side a little bit because I have a final to play in not that long a period of time,” Anderson said. “It was a very emotional match. I was emotional after the match. [But] I need to reset as much as possible for Sunday.”