Big Servers Collide For Spot In Wimbledon Final
Familiar foes Anderson & Isner meet for first time since 2015
There may not be many people who predicted a Kevin Anderson-John Isner semi-final ahead of this Wimbledon fortnight. But now two of the tallest players in the sport, standing at 6’8” and 6’10”, respectively, have an opportunity to reach arguably the biggest final of their careers at the All England Club.
Perhaps Anderson’s appearance in the semi-final is more surprising, considering the South African was down match point against eight-time champion Roger Federer in the quarter-finals before becoming the fifth player to defeat the Swiss from two sets down. But Isner is not thinking about Federer being out. Instead, he’s focusing on the opponent in front of him.
“Whether it was Kevin or Roger, that didn’t enter my mind at all, which I think is very good,” Isner said. “It’s not like I have a huge opportunity now. Look how well Kevin is playing. It’s going to be extra tough.”
Players To Beat Roger Federer From Two Sets Down
|Lleyton Hewitt||2003 Davis Cup SF||5-7, 2-6, 7-6(4), 7-5, 6-1|
|David Nalbandian||2005 Nitto ATP Finals||6-7(4), 6-7(11), 6-2, 6-1, 7-6(3)|
|Jo-Wilfried Tsonga||2011 Wimbledon||3-6, 6-7(3), 6-4, 6-4, 6-4|
|Novak Djokovic||2011 US Open||6-7(7), 4-6, 6-3, 6-2, 7-5|
|Kevin Anderson||2018 Wimbledon||2-6, 6-7(5), 7-5, 6-4, 13-11|
In fact, both players are in the best form of their lives. Anderson has a chance to reach his second Grand Slam final, and he can break into the Top 5 of the ATP Rankings with a victory against Isner. The American is guaranteed to climb to at least No. 8, which will be a career-best.
And while Isner leads the pair’s FedEx ATP Head2Head series 8-3, they knew one another long before they began playing on the ATP World Tour. The American competed for the University of Georgia, while the South African played at the University of Illinois. Just more than 11 years ago, they battled at the No. 1 singles spot in the NCAA Finals between the two schools, with Isner triumphing in straight sets.
“There could be a little mental aspect in our match,” Isner said. “We’ve been lined up against each other for about 14 years now, because he left Illinois when I left Georgia. We’ve been doing it ever since.
“For me this match-up, and I think for him as well, is especially cool. It’s a very nice spotlight on college tennis, that one of us, no matter what, is going to be playing in the Wimbledon final… I never could have imagined this. I don’t know if you asked him that question [what he would say]. [I would have said] there’s no shot. [I couldn’t] imagine us playing each other in the semi-finals of the most prestigious tennis tournament we have.”
The key will be perhaps how well Anderson, who seeks his 300th tour-level win Friday and has been broken nine times across five matches, holds onto his serve. Isner has not been broken in 95 service games this tournament. So if the American is able to get a beat on his opponent’s serve, that might spell trouble for the 2017 US Open runner-up.
“John I think has got arguably one of the best serves of all-time on the Tour. Especially in the past few months, what’s really impressive is just his first-serve percentage as well, never mind how accurate and big the serve is. But he’s very consistent with the two. Definitely, the first challenge is the serve.”
Isner has landed 75.9 per cent of first serves throughout the fortnight, allowing him to play on his terms from the start of rallies, if the ball comes back at all. Unbelievably, the 33-year-old has hit an ace on 39.7 per cent (161/406) of his first-serve points.
Most Attempts Before Reaching Maiden Grand Slam Final (Open Era)
Anderson knows that Isner, who lifted his maiden ATP World Tour Masters 1000 title at the Miami Open presented by Itau, is high on confidence, allowing him to swing freely at his groundstrokes, especially given his strong serving. So he will be focused on not giving the No. 9 seed any cheap breaks. The American, who is into his first Grand Slam semi-final, has broken serve 15 times in five matches, whereas he arrived on the hallowed grass having broken just 30 times in 25 matches this season.
“In the matches I’ve played him, obviously taking care of your serve is the first priority. It’s a match that’s often won on just a couple points here and there. I feel confident in baseline exchanges I’d say quite a lot [of the time] with John,” said Anderson, who is trying to become the first South African since Brian Norton in 1921 to reach the Wimbledon final. “At the same time, because he’s such a big player, has so much firepower, you just can’t be too patient. You have to still be aggressive, put him on the back foot.”
This year’s New York Open champion uses more topspin from the baseline, allowing him to work points more patiently and play better defensive tennis if need be. This is their first meeting since the 2015 BNP Paribas Open, so it will be interesting to see how they adjust to one another, with both competitors in good form.
“It’s always close, always very close,” said Isner, who can become the 12th American man in the Open Era to make the Wimbledon final.. “When you match up with two big servers, inevitably the matches are going to be close. I’m going to expect a very tough match on Friday. I think he will expect that as well.”