It's been a busy last week for Kevin Anderson at the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club in south west London.
On Monday he spent three hours and 29 minutes dealing with Gael Monfils, in a thrilling fourth round encounter, which he followed two days later with an absorbing four hour 14-minute victory over the greatest men’s champion at Wimbledon, Roger Federer.
And then there was Friday, the long, good, but painful Friday, a six hour 36-minute tennis ultra-marathon against John Isner. For some context, this year’s Comrades Marathon winner, Bongmusa Mthembu took just under five and half hours to finish his run from Pietermaritzburg to Durban.
That’s a total of 14 hours and 19 minutes that the 32 year old Anderson has spent on court – just last week – and he’s still got today’s final to come.
Friday’s match left both players beaten up. Anderson had swollen feet and legs that felt like jelly; Isner was nursing a painful heel and had a blister on his left foot.
For all the historic significance of their match – the longest semi-final ever at Wimbledon – neither player was happy to be out there that long and both agreed that Wimbledon, the French Open and the Australian Open needed to adopt the US Open model, and have mens matches conclude with a tie-breaker in the fifth set.
“I’m, like, it gets kind of ridiculous at some point in time when it’s late in the fifth set, over 20-All. I can feel the crowd they’re pretty antsy for us to get off the court. They’ve been watching us for over six hours.”
As a result, Anderson said there were a number of ‘unknowns’ that he and his coaching team would need to consider as they try and prepare for today’s final, given that he had never played a match that long in his career, nevermind it being one that qualified him for the biggest match of his life, in the sport’s most prestigious tournament.
He tried to stick to his post match recovery routine as much as possible on Friday, amazingly doing 10 minutes on a stationary cycle, having a stretch before jumping into an ice bath. “We have to sort of see. Obviously I need a lot of treatment in terms of getting the body back balanced and stuff, but at the same time obviously sleep is important, too. I think we’re going to play it by ear, see how I feel, see how my body reacts in the morning,” he said.
His record against Novak Djokovic, is not surprisingly, unfavourable. Against the Serbian he can count one win 10 years ago in Miami, but has lost five times although in their last meeting they had an epic five set encounter at Wimbledon, with Djokovic winning from two sets down in 2015.
There were so many emotions after the match yesterday. Reaching the final at @Wimbledon has always been a dream for me. Thank you all for your support, your messages and for being part of my journey. Now it's time to get ready for Sunday 💪 pic.twitter.com/qzZpbfmJln
Whatever the outcome on Centre Court today, it’s been a hugely successful tournament for Anderson and following on from his runners-up showing at Flushing Meadows last year, points to the greater consistency in his game, which has put him among the elite of the sport.
He’s guaranteed just under R20-million in prize-money just for making the final and if he does somehow emerge victorious, that figure will double.
Of course there is greater significance too from a South African sporting context particularly for tennis.
“Growing up in South Africa, we had limited access to available tournaments. Wimbledon was the most iconic event. So to be here in the finals, it’s amazing. I’ve had so much support from home.
"I really hope that it’s a source of inspiration for kids, just interest in tennis. South Africa does have a strong tennis history. We struggled over the last sort of decade or so. It’s not easy. It takes a lot of time,” Anderson said
“But I hope maybe somebody sits here in 10, 15 years’ time and says he watched me playing Wimbledon. That would definitely be great for me to hear."