14/07/2018 02:06 SAST | Updated 14/07/2018 03:36 SAST

Kevin Anderson: First South African Wimbledon Men's Singles Finalist In 97 Years

The South African played a five-setter even more heroic than his quarter-final – but can he recover in time for the final?

Kevin Anderson in action during his semi final-match against John Isner of the U.S.
Tony O'Brien / Reuters
Kevin Anderson in action during his semi final-match against John Isner of the U.S.

Kevin Anderson might live in Florida these days, but he's still a South African citizen — and his fellow Saffas are fiercely claiming him as their own again, as he heads to the Wimbledon Men's Singles final on Sunday, after an extraordinary semi-final that saw him battle John Isner of the U.S. for more than six hours.

In what Sport24 called "a marathon tie", Anderson strove for six hours and 35 minutes against the equally indefatigable American — the second-longest singles match in Wimbledon history. It culminated in a gruelling 50-game final set in which the South African got to love-30 against Isner's serve on several occasions, but just couldn't pull off a service break.

Fans around the globe realised they were in for a long one in the early stages of the match. The first three sets all went to tie-breaks, with Anderson winning the first 8-6, before Isner took the next two by 7-5 and 11-9. In the fourth set, the American seemed to tire, with Anderson surging to a more conventional 6-4 win and seemingly ready to wrap it up.

But Isner dug deep, and the final set turned into a seemingly interminable quest between two tall men with scorching serves for that elusive break.

Andrew Boyers / Reuters
Anderson in action during his semi-final match against John Isner.

Finally, however, Anderson's grit, athleticism and stamina — and one brilliant bout of ambidextrousness — paid off, and he clinched the match after playing the equivalent of nine sets in total, to win 7-6, 6-7, 6-7, 6-4, 26-24. In the course of the match, Isner delivered 53 aces, and Anderson responded with 49.

No South African, male or female, has ever won a singles title at Wimbledon, and the last SA man to make the singles final at the prestigious tournament was Brian Norton in 1921, who finished runner-up to U.S. legend Bill Tilden, also in five sets.

Anderson has over five days played tennis for longer than Germany played in the entire Fifa World Cup

The question South African fans are asking now, however, is whether Anderson will have time to recover sufficiently before Sunday's final. His heroics against Isner followed just two days after he'd been through another five-set ordeal, this one lasting more than four hours, when he came back from two sets down and a match point to beat Grand Slam superstar Roger Federer.

On Monday, his four-set victory against France's Gaël Monfils also included three tie-breaks — as some wags on Twitter have pointed out, Anderson has over five days played tennis for longer than Germany played football in the entire Fifa World Cup. He must be physically and mentally exhausted, and home fans are anxious to see if he has enough never-say-die bloodymindedness left to power him — and the nation — to a historic Wimbledon first.

The Djokovic-Nadal semi-final was massively delayed while Isner and Anderson monopolised Centre Court, and the South African now has to wait until Saturday afternoon to see who will face him in the final.

The second semi was suspended after three sets at cut-off time on Friday night, with Djokovic ahead 6-4, 3-6, 7-6 — the third set going to yet another tie-break, which the Serb won 11-9. He'll resume his duel against the Spanish World No.1 at 2pm SA time on Saturday.

Kevin Anderson, presumably, will be watching from an ice bath...