Former Illini Anderson advances to Wimbledon final

Former Illini Anderson advances to Wimbledon final

LONDON — In a Wimbledon men's singles semifinal match that experienced three tiebreakers and a fifth set that lasted 50 games, the margin for error was slim as could be.

Former Illini Kevin Anderson put together a slightly cleaner game than foe John Isner. Anderson's reward for this effort: his first-ever berth in the grass-court tournament final.

Anderson overcame a one-set deficit and outlasted Isner over the course six hours and 36 minutes, capturing the bout 7-6 (7), 6-7 (6), 6-7 (9), 6-4, 26-24.

Former Illini coach Craig Tiley was on hand.

"Unbelievable atmosphere," Tiley said. "We knew it was going to be a long match. It was so exciting.

"It was a battle of attrition. It was one of those classic matches."

Anderson finally broke Isner's serve in the fifth set during the 49th game, with the highlight coming during the second point. Anderson fell to his backside trying to return an Isner serve, but got to his feet with his racket in his off hand. Anderson still returned Isner's next lob, then switched the racket from his left hand to his right before finishing off the point.

In the 50th game, Isner took down the opening point before Anderson captured the next four — including two on aces.

Anderson and Isner, who were meeting for the 12th time in their professional careers, played an extremely even bout to decide who would take on the winner of Friday's later semifinal, between Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic. Anderson earned his fourth victory in all-time head-to-head battle with Isner.

The eighth-seeded Anderson became the first person to break the serve of ninth-seeded Isner, doing so once in the third set, twice in the fourth set and again during the fifth set. The penultimate of those ultimately helped him to the only non-tiebreak victory of the first four sets, and the last allowed him to finally get a leg up on Isner in the final stanza.

The two big men — Anderson checks in at 6-foot-8, while Isner is 6-10 — traded blazing serves throughout the contest. Isner finished with 53 aces to Anderson's 49, and Isner during the fifth set broke the single-tournament aces record with his 214th.

One key area in which Anderson held the edge throughout was in unforced errors, as Isner committed 59 to just 24 for Anderson.

Anderson had a strong chance to secure the third set and potentially keep the match from going the distance — as Anderson's round of 16 and quarterfinal bouts did. But the ex-Illini had his serve broken in Game 9 of that set before he double-faulted while up 8-7 in the tiebreaker.

This semifinal featured a high level of emotion from both athletes right off the bat. Anderson, who typically shows a reserved demeanor, would frequently fist-pump after winning a point. Each man also took a turn shouting toward the crowd after capturing a set, and Isner waved a hand toward the crowd during the third-set tiebreaker to generate more cheering.

This is just the latest high point for Anderson over the course of an impressive last 11 months. The 32-year-old has made six event finals since August 2017, including a display in last year's U.S. Open against Nadal.

Anderson, who knocked off reigning Wimbledon champion Roger Federer in the quarterfinal round, will now take on another behemoth of men's tennis in Sunday's championship match. Anderson hasn't defeated Nadal in five previous encouters, while he holds a 1-5 ledger all-time against Djokovic.

The other semifinal match will still take place Friday, but the curfew for play at Wimbledon is 11 p.m. local time. It was past 8 p.m. in London when Anderson and Isner wrapped up, meaning the second semifinal could extend into Saturday.