JOHANNESBURG - Sport can be cruel, sometimes. It is one of the few, gloriously infuriating pastimes in our lives, capable of lifting our spirits, and inspiring millions with a kick of a ball, a swing of the shoulder, or the swiftness of foot.
Kevin Anderson won’t care about all of that when he rises, somewhere in London this (Monday) morning. He might not even care about the unforgettable Wednesday and epic Friday that he had on the way to the Wimbledon final. He won’t even try to use the heavy mileage accrued in those two titanic tussles as some sort of excuse for the slow start that compromised him against Novak Djokovic.
At this level, they don’t believe in excuses. Certainly not in a sport where the best women’s player, and possibly the greatest ever, survived childbirth, and then willed herself to a Wimbledon final just 10 months later. Djokovic himself has suffered plenty of misery and setbacks over the last two years, and there has been little in the way of excuses. It is a measure of the small margins that exist that both men were so generous towards each other in the speeches. Just as Anderson was to John Isner after the semi-final and, indeed, how gracious Roger Federer was in defeat on Wednesday.
Rather than excuses, respect is the currency of choice at the highest level. And, over the past week, and indeed over the past few years ever since he dedicated himself to being the best Kevin he could possibly be, Anderson has certainly been earning it by the fistful. He has added subtlety and style to his repertoire, supplementing the sledge-hammer serve that has always been his trademark. To be sure, Anderson lost to one of the greatest returners in the game. There is no shame in that, even if he might have winced as the first two sets whizzed by before he could say, ‘Askies’.
Congratulations @DjokerNole. You are a true champion of our sport and it was an honour to share Centre Court with you. Thank you to everyone who makes @Wimbledon possible and perfect - see you next year! pic.twitter.com/46ObHMfOa3
The final was tough to watch, if you took it in isolation. But, observed alongside Anderson’s body of work, it was, perhaps, understandable. In any other year, climbing back from match point down to the King of SW19 and then defeat him would be enough to just about seal the championship. But, we are in the midst of one of the most competitive ages of men’s tennis, dripping with quality and character. Anderson now sits at No 5 in the world rankings, firmly in that conversation. Respected, if not quite revered.
You would hope, upon reflection, that Anderson’s disappointment is assuaged by the knowledge that he has climbed even higher than most optimists thought he might. His feats have fully vindicated his decision to go solo and, on the back of this latest run, his balance in international respect is rivalling the dollars that his endeavour has been rewarded with. What is more, he made a sporting nation prouder still, lifting our spirits and inspiring many a tennis braai. He even made a tennis connoisseur out of Morne Morkel
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