Skip to main content

Kevin Anderson celebrates his victory over John Isner after their semi-final at All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club on July 13, 2018 in London.

Matthew Stockman/Getty Images

To say that Kevin Anderson won this interminable Wimbledon semi-final, and that John Isner lost it, didn’t really seem fair. To Anderson, anyway.

They had played on and on, through 6½ hours of ho-hum hold after ho-hum hold, during the second-longest match in the history of a tournament that began in 1877, all the way until the never-ending serving marathon did, finally, end at 26-24 in the fifth set Friday, with Anderson claiming the most important of the 569 points – the last.

So when Anderson left Centre Court, well aware that his 7-6 (6), 6-7 (5), 6-7 (9), 6-4, 26-24 victory earned him the chance to win his first Grand Slam title at the age of 32, the South African said: “At the end, you feel like this is a draw between the two of us.”

Story continues below advertisement

He continued: “John’s such a great guy, and I really feel for him, because if I’d been on the opposite side, I don’t know how you can take that, playing for so long and coming up short.”

Only one match at Wimbledon ever lasted longer: Isner’s 2010 first-round victory over Nicolas Mahut, the longest match in tennis history. It went more than 11 hours over three days and finished 70-68 in the fifth on Court 18, which now bears a plaque commemorating the event.

Friday’s contest lasted so long, the day’s second semi-final didn’t finish.

Novak Djokovic was leading Rafael Nadal 6-4, 3-6, 7-6 (9) in a compelling showdown filled with entertaining points that was suspended as soon as the third set concluded at just past 11 p.m., the curfew at the All England Club. Some people in the stands booed the decision to halt the match after a fantastic tiebreaker in which Nadal wasted three set points at 6-5, 7-6 and 8-7. Djokovic cashed in on his second when Nadal’s backhand found the net after an 18-stroke exchange.

Because Nadal and Djokovic didn’t begin playing until after 8 p.m., the retractable roof above the main stadium was shut between the matches and the arena’s artificial lights were turned on. Now they’ll have to come back on Saturday to figure out who will face Anderson in the final, resuming at 1 p.m. local time, under the roof.

The women’s final between Serena Williams and Angelique Kerber will then follow. That creates an unusual situation: Instead of a standard 2 p.m. start, Williams and Kerber won’t know exactly when their match will begin.

Anderson will certainly appreciate the chance to put his feet up ahead of Sunday’s final, while Nadal and Djokovic – who have a combined 29 Grand Slam titles between them, five at Wimbledon – push each other some more.

Story continues below advertisement

Anderson’s fifth set alone lasted nearly 3 hours, as his semi-final became a test of endurance more than skill.

“He stayed the course incredibly well,” said the No. 9 seed Isner, a 33-year-old American playing in his first major semi-final. “Just disappointed to lose. I was pretty close to making a Grand Slam final and it didn’t happen.”

Anderson finally earned the must-have, go-ahead service break with the help of a point in which the right-hander tumbled to his backside, scrambled back to his feet and hit a shot with his left hand.

“That definitely brings a smile to my face,” said Anderson, the runner-up to Nadal at last year’s U.S. Open. “At that stage, you’re just trying to fight in every single moment, and I was like, ‘Just get up!’”

The No. 8 seed Anderson eliminated eight-time Wimbledon champion Roger Federer in a 13-11 fifth set in their quarter-final on Wednesday. Between that and the energy-sapper against Isner, it’s hard to imagine how Anderson will have much left for his second Slam final.

Wimbledon doesn’t use tiebreakers in the fifth set for men, or third set for women, so there’s nothing to prevent a match from continuing ad infinitum. Both Isner and Anderson said they’d like to see that change.

Story continues below advertisement

At one point in the fifth set, a spectator shouted, “Come on, guys! We want to see Rafa!”

The 6-foot-8 Anderson and 6-foot-10 Isner go way back, to their college days, Isner at Georgia, Anderson at Illinois. In the pros, Isner had won eight of their 11 previous matchups. But this one was as close as can be.

There wasn’t a whole lot of intrigue, or momentum shifts. The serving, though, was something else. Isner pounded his at up to 228.5 kilometres and hour; Anderson reached 218.8 kilometres an hour. They combined for 102 aces: 53 by Isner, 49 by Anderson.

“The effort they both put in and the performance and the guts, the way they competed – a lot to be proud of,” one of Isner’s coaches, Justin Gimelstob, said.

Both failed to seize early opportunities. Isner wasted a set point in the opener. Anderson served for the third at 5-3, was broken and then had a pair of set points in that tiebreaker, double-faulting one away.

By the latter stages, with break chances so rare, murmurs would spread through the Centre Court stands whenever a game’s returner got to love-15 or love-30.

Could we be about to see the sixth and last break of a match that would end up with 90 holds?

Repeatedly, the answer was, of course, “No,” even when Anderson held break points at 7-all, 10-all and 17-all. The 10-all game ended with Isner hitting a forehand passing winner on the run to hold, then letting his momentum carry him directly to his sideline chair, where he plopped himself down.

By the end, he was looking exhausted, leaning over to rest a hand on a knee between points.

“I feel pretty terrible,” Isner said afterward. “My left heel is killing me and I have an awful blister on my right foot.”

He never got a break point in the fifth set. Anderson finally came through on his sixth for a 25-24 lead, when Isner wearily put a backhand into the net.

Then Anderson served out the victory, with Isner sailing a forehand wide on match point.

Soon, they were meeting for an embrace.

Report an error
Comments

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff.

We aim to create a safe and valuable space for discussion and debate. That means:

  • Treat others as you wish to be treated
  • Criticize ideas, not people
  • Stay on topic
  • Avoid the use of toxic and offensive language
  • Flag bad behaviour

Comments that violate our community guidelines will be removed.

If your comment doesn't appear immediately it has been sent to a member of our moderation team for review

Read our community guidelines here

Discussion loading ...

Due to technical reasons, we have temporarily removed commenting from our articles. We hope to have this fixed soon. Thank you for your patience. If you are looking to give feedback on our new site, please send it along to feedback@globeandmail.com. If you want to write a letter to the editor, please forward to letters@globeandmail.com.