How Kevin Anderson destroyed the Wimbledon script
Anderson has rapaciously changed his fitness regime, his outlook and his coach in the past 12 months
It doesn’t feel like it but Roger Federer, owner of eight Wimbledon titles, has lost more times at the grass court major than he has won the title.
In the slanting sun of this unusually hot English summer on Wednesday, South Africa’s Kevin Anderson inflicted defeat No 12 on Federer at SW19. It wasn’t part of the script for the defending champion and for the increasingly stunned, pro-Federer crowd.
In 2001, a 19-year-old Federer beat seven-time champion Pete Sampras in the fourth round at Wimbledon, and there was a clear passing of the torch from one generation to the next.
No one is pretending that Anderson’s win is the beginning of a new era of dominance, considering the lanky South African is 32 and has been on tour for 11 years.
But the nature of Anderson’s win, ending a run of 34 straight Federer sets at Wimbledon since last year, and coming back from two sets down, might be the most clear signal that age is catching up with the seemingly ageless Federer.
The match was moved to court No 1, the first time in three years Federer was forced out of Centre Court, such was the All England Club’s confidence that he would prevail.
After all, Anderson, with one Grand Slam final appearance to his name (last year’s US Open), was expected to play his part as plucky loser, allowing the Federer express to power on to an inevitable meeting with either Rafa Nadal and Novak Djokovic – players more used to sharing his stratosphere.And for two sets it looked like Anderson, the 2.03m giant with a nuclear serve, had read his lines and was following the script immaculately.
But the new Anderson, the one that has rapaciously changed his fitness regime, his mental outlook and his coach in the past 12 months, did what only a handful of players have ever managed. He overturned a two-set margin to beat the greatest player ever to set foot on grass, and probably on a tennis court, because he believed he could.
“I can hit every single shot in the game, but it’s knowing when to hit them and having the belief about hitting them at a specific moment that has changed,” Anderson told me in March this year, after two months with new coach Brad Stine.
The last time Federer lost from two sets up in a Grand Slam was at 2011 US Open against Djokovic. Anderson also became the first player since Tomas Berdych during the 2017 semi-final to break Federer’s serve at Wimbledon.
Anderson saved a match point in the 10th game of the third set. In the fourth and fifth sets, he served second, so he was always under pressure. Every time Federer held, Anderson had to hold to stay in the match.
When the score reached 4-5 in the fifth set, the pressure mounted on Anderson. Federer always had the knowledge that even if Anderson broke his serve, there would be one more game. For Anderson a broken serve meant defeat. And in all he held his serve 13 times in the final set, not allowing Federer a single break point.“Look, he’s got a nice, big serve that he can rely heavily on,” Federer sniffed afterwards. In truth Anderson’s game is much more than a big serve.
His movement, ball striking and game management have all improved massively, which adds to his primary weapon.
After four previous meetings against Federer that had all ended in defeat, Anderson entered the Wimbledon arena on Wednesday with belief that he could win. He admitted it was not that way in the past.
“I felt like I was just trying to keep myself very highly motivated, a lot of belief in myself, said: ‘Today is going to be my day',” Anderson told the media afterwards.
“Obviously it came very close to it not being my day. I still think if had I lost that match point, I made a few steps in the right direction. Obviously getting through it, I feel like I can take bigger steps.’’
This was another step in a series of big strides that has seen Anderson become a contender at the majors after two injury-ravaged seasons that saw his ranking plummet to 68th.
After this weekend he will close in on the top five. John Isner, the even bigger-serving American, stands in his way in Friday’s semi-final.
If Anderson wins that either Nadal or Djokovic awaits in Sunday’s final. That wasn’t in the script for anyone outside of the Anderson camp.