CAPE TOWN – It was one of those unforgettable Wimbledon classics. And for once, it involved a South African – maybe even two, if we claim Roger Federer.
But this time it was the 6 foot 8 (2.03m) Kevin Anderson who ruled Court One at the All England Club on a glorious Wednesday of enthralling tennis in south-west London.
When he was two sets down and facing a match point, it looked like the end was near for Anderson.
His booming serve was being masterfully neutralised by the Swiss magician, who pulled off some jaw-dropping winners – including some stunning backhands that looked like JP Duminy cover drives.
But once Anderson saved the match point, it gave him a second wind.
After missing out on a second-set tie-breaker, the 32-year-old from Johannesburg broke the Federer serve to win it 7-5, and the belief came flooding back.
“Not quite sure what to say right now, but down two sets to love, I really tried my best to keep fighting. And I was able to scrape through that third set and the fourth set, and by the end, I felt I did a great job (by) not thinking about things too much,” Anderson said in a post-match television interview.
“I felt I was really in the flow of the match. And beating Roger Federer at Wimbledon will definitely be one that I remember, especially in such a close match.”
Anderson was guilty of engaging in a baseline slug-fest initially with Federer, who mixed things up beautifully and moved the big South African around the court throughout – with one rally going up to 21 strokes.
But Anderson gave as good as he got, and even started coming into the net as his confidence grew. His serve also began to reap rewards, with 28 aces the result, while he also chased down almost every Federer slice and drop-shot.
Even after winning one such point, the Swiss right-hander shook his head at the sheer bloody-mindedness of his opponent.
The normally cool Federer rushed a few serves as the pressure grew, and seemed unusually flustered in the fifth set despite winning several games fairly easily while Anderson battled on his serve.
But the breakthrough came when Anderson broke to take a 12-11 lead, and he was able to hold his serve to close out a sensational triumph 2-6 6-7 (5/7) 7-5 6-4 13-11, going one step further than Wayne Ferreira in 1994 by reaching the Wimbledon semi-finals.
“I just kept on telling myself that I had to keep believing, and I kept saying that ‘Today was going to be my day’, because you really need that mindset taking the court against somebody like Roger,” Anderson said.
“If you go out there with doubts or unsure of what’s gonna happen – like I maybe did a little bit in that first set – it’s not going to go your way.
“As the match went on, I just kept telling myself ‘It’s going to be my day’, and I just gave it my all. Obviously very ecstatic to get through that.
“Obviously that was a great performance from my side. Very, very pleased to get through, and as I said at the beginning of the week, my first goal was to try and get one step further than my best result here.
“But I also said I want to put myself in such positions, and obviously fantastically happy about today. Put myself within a shout of hopefully playing on Sunday.”
Now he will take on John Isner in Friday’s semi-final – after the big American beat Canadian Milos Raonic on Wednesday – but Anderson will first enjoy the moment of getting the better of the greatest men’s player in history.
“Right now, I am going to have to really recover a lot and be ready for my next match on Friday. There is still more tennis to be played.
“(I will) Allow myself to take it in (beating Federer), at least today – matches like that are really special, beating Roger here at Wimbledon is one I will definitely remember.
“But at the same time, I have to recover and still hopefully have two more matches to play.”
What a day for South African tennis.