Support system key for ex-Illini ahead of Wimbledon semifinal

Support system key for ex-Illini ahead of Wimbledon semifinal

LONDON — The men's tennis coach's office at Atkins Tennis Center became a popular gathering place on Wednesday morning.

"People kept streaming down," Illinois coach Brad Dancer said.

Dancer could thank a former pupil — and other televisions at Atkins going out for some inexplicable reason — for why folks were jammed in to watch Kevin Anderson's gripping comeback win against Roger Federer in the Wimbledon quarterfinals on the television inside Dancer's office.

Dancer just wrapped up his 13th season in charge at Illinois. The former Illini assistant coach when Anderson started at Illinois in 2004, who later became the Illini's head coach in 2005 before Anderson's college career concluded in 2007, arrived back on the UI campus on Wednesday morning after a family vacation. Intent on getting caught up on work while keeping tabs on how Anderson was doing against Federer in the Wimbledon quarterfinals, the latter objective took up most of his morning.

"I went in early thinking I was going to plow through all these emails," Dancer said. "The next thing I know, you can't help but sit and watch. I didn't get much done."

The emails will have to wait again Friday morning. Dancer will spend most of his attention watching Anderson.

From up close at Wimbledon before the eighth-seeded Anderson takes on No. 9 John Isner in Anderson's first-ever semifinal appearance at Wimbledon.

If the former Illini is able to continue his magical Wimbledon run with a win today, he'll face either No. 2 Rafael Nadal or No. 12 Novak Djokovic on Sunday in the Wimbledon final. That would mark Anderson's second-ever appearance in a Grand Slam final after he finished second at the 2017 U.S. Open.

"I've always believed that I have this in me to constantly get better," the 32-year-old Anderson told reporters after his stunning triumph against Federer that saw him close out a 13-11 win in the fifth and final set. "I'm very motivated to keep improving, and it's very rewarding to see those improvements take place week in and week out."

Losing the first two sets to Federer on Wednesday didn't seem to bode well for Anderson against the eight-time Wimbledon champion.

But staving off Federer's only match point against Anderson and winning the third set generated a change in Anderson. Dancer could notice.

Even if he was sitting in front of a TV more than a continent away from what was transpiring at the All England Club.

"When it was 2-all in the fifth set, I had a gut feeling, he was going to get it done," Dancer said. "He felt strong at the end. You could see it."

Expect big serves from both the 6-foot-8 Anderson and 6-10 Isner today. Anderson has compiled 124 aces so far at Wimbledon, with Isner accumulating 161 aces.

The two are familiar from their college days — the 33-year-old Isner starred at Georgia while Anderson did the same at Illinois — and on the pro circuit.

"John has got one of the best serves all-time on the tour," Anderson said. "He's very consistent with it, too. The first challenge is the serve. I feel like he relies a lot on confidence. In the matches I've played him ... it's a match that's often won on a couple points here and there."

The style of play Isner will throw at Anderson pales in comparison to what Anderson experienced in his win against Federer.

"More than anything, that's probably the biggest difficulty," Dancer said. "Kevin and Federer were just cracking the ball. Isner, outside of the serve, has a lot more variance in the pace. He plays an entirely different style from Fed, who is relentless and attacking you all the time. I expect that may be a big challenge for Kevin early on, and then he's going to have to adjust to that and feel that out as the match goes on."

No matter the outcome today, Anderson has already proved he belongs on the Wimbledon stage.

It's an aspect those who followed his Illinois career understood, but a sentiment Anderson himself is coming to appreciate more as his pro career progresses.

"My team believes in me a lot. My family believes in me a lot. I think I've started to believe in myself a lot more," Anderson said. "Coming into this event, I felt a quiet confidence of going further than I had in the past."

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