There was a distinct moment, deep in the fifth set of the Roger Federer-Kevin Anderson quarterfinal at Wimbledon, where the No.1 Court crowd seemed to sense a result was imminent.
It was when Federer, who’d enjoyed the advantage of serving first, emerged from his chair with an 11-10 lead. The roar was the loudest it had been all day, 11,000 fans trying to lift their beloved eight-time champion. Return well here, they seemed to say, and you’ll be back in the semifinals.
And sure enough, not long after that roar, a result was determined. Except it went against the form guide.
Anderson, from 10-11 down, won three straight games to complete a stunning 2-6 6-7(5) 7-5 6-4 13-11 victory.
“I’m not quite sure what to say right now,” Anderson said immediately after coming off court. “Down two sets to love I tried to keep fighting … by the end I thought I did a great job not thinking about things too much. I just kept telling myself I had to keep believing. As the match went on I just kept (saying) to myself this is gonna be my day. (I’m) obviously ecstatic.
“Beating Roger Federer at Wimbledon is one that I’m definitely going to remember.”
— Wimbledon (@Wimbledon) July 11, 2018
Anderson will next face John Isner for a place in the final, after the American later on Wednesday overcame Milos Raonic in four sets to reach his first Grand Slam semifinal.
“Pure elation right now. Very, very happy to be in this position right now in the semifinals. With how I’m feeling physically and mentally, I’m in a very good spot. I think I can keep doing damage here,” Isner said.
“This is amazing. It’s by far the best Grand Slam I’ve ever played in my career, and I’ve been playing for 11 years. I’m super happy. To do it here at Wimbledon makes it even a little bit more special.”
The South African’s victory was a seismic result in so many ways. Federer was the defending champion, the No.1 seed and the favourite for this year’s title. He’d been largely untroubled in four straight-sets victories to get to the quarterfinals.
Yet several streaks came to an end on Wednesday for the Swiss superstar.
This was the first time in three years – or 20 matches – that Federer had played away from Centre Court. When Anderson scored a break early in the second set, it marked the first time Federer had dropped serve all tournament. When Anderson saved a match point in the 10th game of the third set before going on to win it 7-5, it snapped Federer’s run of 34 consecutive sets won at Wimbledon. It was also the first time Anderson had ever won a set against Federer in five career meetings.
“I think I remember the (match) point pretty well. The ball was there to be hit. Went after it,” Anderson reflected. “It was important for me to get through those tight moments. But I feel like my commitment to the kind of tennis I wanted to play throughout the match, it got definitely better as the match progressed.”
When Anderson finally completed victory after four hours and 14 minutes, he became just the fifth player in history – and the first in seven years – to recover from two-sets-to-love down to beat Federer.
Defeated #Federer from 2 sets down
Hewitt – 2003 Davis Cup
Nalbandian – 2005 Tour Finals
Tsonga – 2011 #Wimbledon? ? (QF)
Djokovic – 2011 US (SF)
Anderson – 2018 Wimbledon (QF)
— Joshua Kay (@js_kay) July 11, 2018
“I wasn’t feeling particularly well off the baseline. I couldn’t really get the rallies going the way I wanted to, especially 1-2 punch wasn’t working at all today. Once I was in the rallies, it’s hard to get him moving. He hits hard and strong,” Federer said.
“It was just one of those days where you hope to get by somehow. I almost could have. I should have. It’s disappointing losing the next two sets after winning the first two and having match points.
“To be honest, I didn’t feel mental fatigue (in the fifth). Now I feel horribly fatigued and just awful. It’s just terrible. But that’s how it goes, you know. Credit to him.”
Anderson by no means began auspiciously, but as the match unfolded, he showed everyone he’s a more well-rounded, complete player than the serve-bot of which he has often been characterised. There were 28 Anderson aces to Federer’s 16, yes, but the South African also returned strongly and was lethal from the back of the court, leaning into his groundstrokes and finishing up with more groundstroke winners than Federer.
In a “normal” match, it’s Federer deploying first-strike tactics and rushing his opponents into error. But the dynamic was different on Wednesday; as he mentioned, he was slower to react, his timing was off, and his shots lacked a little of their usual sting. Anderson thus had a fraction more time to set up for his strikes, and increasingly bullied Federer around the baseline.
Anderson has been going after almost all of his returns and it's really bothering Federer, who's been strangely rushed and unusually late on his forehand quite often. He looks worried
— Simon Cambers (@scambers73) July 11, 2018
That’s not saying that Federer didn’t have chances. As the scores clicked over from 5-5, to 6-6, to 7-7, to 8-8, it was the Swiss generally holding serving comfortably while putting Anderson under pressure when returning. In the 12th game Federer reached 0-30. In the 14th game, 15-30. Both times, Anderson hit his way out of trouble.
But Federer’s game unravelled when, at 11-11, he double-faulted then netted a forehand on the next point to hand Anderson the crucial break.
“I haven’t thought about (the win) too much in the broader context of things. It felt great to get that match,” he said.
“I think the toughest thing players face when going out playing somebody like Roger in this setting is giving yourself a chance. I feel like the times that I’ve played him before, or other guys sort of with his ranking and history, I haven’t really allowed myself to play. The first set was an example of that.
“I was really proud of myself the way I was able to relax, play my game. That’s a big goal that I’ve had. Even if I’d lost that match in three sets or four sets, I still actually made some progress on that front. That was a good plus. Obviously it’s infinitely better winning that match. But overall obviously a lot of positives to take from it.”
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