Saturday, July 14, 2018

Amazing shot helps Anderson top Isner in epic

Kevin Anderson of the host Sacramento Capitals serves in
a 2012 World TeamTennis match. Photo by Paul Bauman
   Occasionally, a professional player will hit a shot with his or her non-dominant hand out of desperation in a match.
   But never has it happened under such extraordinary circumstances as it did on Friday.
   At 24-24, 0-15 in the fifth set of a Wimbledon semifinal, 6-foot-10 (2.08-meter) John Isner jammed 6-foot-8 (2.03-meter) Kevin Anderson with a booming serve. Anderson managed to return the ball with his two-handed backhand but fell on his back and dropped his racket.
   Isner responded with a deep, looping inside-out forehand that gave Anderson time to pick up his racket and get back on his feet. The right-hander's only play, however, was to hit a left-handed forehand, which he did with aplomb, the ball landing just inside the baseline. After an exchange of forehands, Isner slugged a cross-court forehand wide for 0-30.
   "That definitely brings a smile to my face," Anderson told the BBC about the left-handed shot after his 7-6 (6), 6-7 (5), 6-7 (9), 6-4, 26-24 triumph. "At that stage, you're just trying to fight every single moment. I was like, Just get up.
   "I've hit a lot of left-handed balls throughout my life. (I had) surgery when I was quite young. My dad, who coached me growing up and throughout my career, he was like, 'Let's play left-handed.' I didn't know that was going to come into play at this point in my career, at this stage, but that was obviously a vital point for me in the end."
   The stroke overshadowed another outstanding shot on the preceding point. Anderson lunged for a forehand volley and hit a sharply angled cross-court winner. He broke serve in the game on a cross-court backhand winner set up by a deep backhand return of serve.
   Serving at 15-15 in the next game, Anderson clubbed an ace and a service winner for his first match point. He then wrong-footed Isner, who pushed a runaround forehand wide to end the epic.
   At 6 hours, 36 minutes, Anderson's 7-6 (6), 6-7 (5), 6-7 (9), 6-4, 26-24 victory is the fourth-longest match in tennis history. First, of course, is Isner's 6-4, 3-6, 6-7 (7), 7-6 (3), 70-68 win over Nicolas Mahut of France in the first round at Wimbledon in 2010.  That marathon lasted 11 hours, 5 minutes over three days. Next are a 2013 Davis Cup doubles match between the Czech Republic and Switzerland  (7 hours, 2 minutes) and a 2015 Davis Cup singles match between Argentina and Brazil (6 hours, 43 minutes).
   "I don't know what got me through today's match other than just a will to try to succeed, keep pushing myself," said the eight-seeded Anderson, who became the first South Africa-born man to reach a Wimbledon final since Kevin Curren 33 years ago.
John Isner serves at Indian Wells in 2016.
Photo by Paul Bauman
   Isner came within two points of victory at 6-5 in the fifth set and overcame 0-30 deficits on his serve six times in the set, which lasted 2 hours, 55 minutes, before the decisive break.
   "I feel pretty terrible (physically)," said the ninth-seeded Isner, who finished with 53 aces to Anderson's 49. "My left heel is killing me. I have an awful blister on my fight foot. I've felt better before. A few days' rest -- maybe more than that -- and I'll recoup and try to get all healed up again.
   "Hats off to Kevin. He stayed the course incredibly well, played very well. It was a good win for him. He earned it. He played pretty well, I think, in the fifth set. I didn't have many chances."
   The match left Anderson and ESPN commentator Patrick McEnroe clamoring for Wimbledon to institute a fifth-set tiebreaker.
   Anderson, 32, improved to 4-8 against Isner, 33, as a professional. They began playing each other 14 years ago as college students at Illinois and Georgia, respectively.
   Anderson, who saved a match point in his quarterfinal victory over top seed and defending champion Roger Federer, reached his second Grand Slam final. He lost to Rafael Nadal 6-3, 6-3, 6-4 in last year's U.S. Open title match.
   Isner, playing in his first Grand Slam semifinal, was trying to become the first American man to reach a major final since Andy Roddick lost to Roger Federer 16-14 in the fifth set in 2009. No U.S. man has won a Slam since Roddick in the 2003 U.S. Open.
   Both Anderson, who resides in Florida with his American wife, and Isner, a native of Greensboro, N.C., who lives in Dallas with his new wife, have played extensively in Northern California.
   Anderson won the 2006 NCAA doubles title at Stanford and reached the final of a $15,000 Futures tournament in the Sacramento suburb of Loomis in 2007. In 2012, he advanced to the quarterfinals of the SAP Open in San Jose and played part-time for the Sacramento Capitals of World TeamTennis. The SAP Open and Capitals folded after the 2013 season.
   Isner reached Futures finals in Chico in 2006 and Shingle Springs in the Sacramento area in 2007, winning his first title as a pro in the latter tournament. Ten years ago, Isner advanced to the quarterfinals of the SAP Open and gained the doubles final in the $50,000 Sacramento Challenger with countryman Rajeev Ram.
   It's uncertain how much physical and mental energy Anderson will have left for Sunday's final (6 a.m. California time on ESPN). On the other hand, at least he has today to rest. The length of his match against Isner prevented the second semifinal from being completed on Friday. Play will resume today at 5 a.m., also on ESPN, with 12th-seeded Novak Djokovic leading the second-seeded Nadal 6-4, 3-6, 7-6 (9). Djokovic, who's rebounding from elbow problems, has won three Wimbledon singles titles (2011, 2014 and 2015) and Nadal two (2008 and 2010).
   After the Djokovic-Nadal encounter, No. 25 seed Serena Williams will try to tie Margaret Court's record of 24 Grand Slam singles titles when she meets No. 11 Angelique Kerber. ESPN will televise the match live, and ABC will replay it at noon.
   Following the women's singles final, No. 7 seeds Mike Bryan (Stanford, 1997-98) and Jack Sock of the United States will play No. 13 Raven Klaasen of South Africa and Michael Venus of New Zealand for the men's doubles title.

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