Asmussen | Anderson raises the bar for ex-Illini success

Asmussen | Anderson raises the bar for ex-Illini success

Here's a suggestion for the Illinois athletic department, free of charge: Head to the local Best Buy and purchase enough thumb drives for every athlete on campus.

Then, ask your talented video department to load up the fifth set of Friday's Wimbledon semifinal.

I guarantee they will be fired up by the performance of Kevin Anderson. One of their own.

The Illinois Hall of Famer advanced to his first Wimbledon final with a "how-did-he-do-that" 7-6 (6), 6-7 (5), 6-7 (9), 6-4, 26-24 victory against John Isner

Normally, I'd be rooting for the American. The U.S. men have struggled in recent years winning Grand Slams. Thank goodness for Serena Williams.

On Friday, most of Champaign-Urbana tuned in to see Anderson. Two days after his comeback win against superstar Roger Federer, Anderson managed to top it.

Think you are having a long day? Well, Anderson had to be at his best for 569 points.

If I'm Lovie Smith or Nancy Fahey or Dan Hartleb, I'm showing the video of the fifth set once a week. At least.

Anderson raised the effort bar at Illinois.

All sports have their challenges, physical and mental. Tennis provides a difficult combination of both.

Think about the next point and you are in trouble. Start to worry about your aching feet and you might as well call it a day.

Friday's match lasted 6 hours, 36 minutes. The fifth set alone went nearly three hours.

It was the second-longest match in Wimbledon history. Only Isner's 2010 win against Nicolas Mahut, which went 11 hours over three days, was longer.

The highlight of Friday's match for Anderson? Easy. At one point, the right-hander fell on his rump, got back on his feet and returned the ball ... left-handed.

"That definitely brings a smile to my face," Anderson told reporters afterward. "At that stage, you're just trying to fight in every single moment, and I was like, 'Just get up!"'

The big guys — Anderson is 6 foot, 8 inches and Isner is 6-10 — served like they were in a hurry. They combined for 102 aces, 53 by Isner and 49 by Anderson.

Friendly rivalry

Afterward, Anderson and Isner looked like they had been in a rumble. With Dick Butkus.

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

Anderson, who won an NCAA doubles title with Ryan Rowe while at Illinois, barely celebrated after the victory. His post-match TV interview was subdued. For a good reason: respect for the guy he knocked out of the tournament.

Anderson and Isner played against each other while in college. Isner is a former Georgia star who was looking for his first Grand Slam final appearance.

They are friends.

"At the end, you feel like this is a draw between the two of us," Anderson said. "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."

Wow, that's sportsmanship. Not a lot of that going around these days.

Isner was also thoughtful.

"He stayed the course incredibly well," Isner said.

Now for the bad news

Anderson has to come back and do it all over. On Sunday.

It gets worse, he will play the winner of today's suspended match between Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic.

It doesn't matter which one. They are both great players. With a combined 29 Grand Slam titles, including five at Wimbledon.

The hunch here is that it is Anderson's turn. He will be helped by the fact that it isn't his first Grand Slam final. That came in last year's U.S. Open, where he lost to Nadal in straight sets.

The awe is gone. Anderson belongs and he knows it.

The level of grit he has shown in the last two matches signal he is ready for the final. If you can rally against the best modern-day player (Federer), then you can do anything.

There is plenty of motivation beyond the cool trophy and the chance to parade it around Centre Court at the All England Club.

The winner takes home 2.25 million pounds, which is a cool $2.976 million. The runner-up makes 1.125 million pounds ($1.488 million) That will buy a lot of tennis gear.

Former Illini have won Super Bowls, World Series and NBA titles.

Those are team sports, With all sorts of help on the field and the sidelines.

In tennis, like in golf, you are on your own. If Anderson finishes off Wimbledon, it will be the most impressive feat ever by a former Illini turned pro.

Feel free to argue with me. Or make a suggestions about best of the exes.

Anderson was an early honoree for the school's athletic Hall of Fame, he'll be inducted one year after his coach Craig Tiley.

Anderson won't likely make it back for the Hall of Fame induction ceremony in September. But the school can set up a special day just for him. Maybe late in the football season or during the basketball season. Trot him out at halftime. Carrying the cool trophy. Providing more inspiration for Illinois athletes.

Bob Asmussen can be reached at 217-351-5233 or by email at asmussen@news-gazette.com.

6 hours, 37 minutes

That's how long it took Kevin Anderson and John Isner to complete their record-breaking Wimbledon semifinal. Here's a look at what else could be accomplished in that time span:

4:03

Bruce Springsteen played just beyond the four-hour mark to break his own U.S. performance record at Citizens Bank Park on Sept. 7, 2016.

5:54

According to listings on Kayak.com, it would take less than six hours on average for a direct flight to travel from New York City to Los Angeles.

6:28

It would take close to six and a half hours to watch all three movies in the original "Star Wars" trilogy — give or take breaks for popcorn.

6:35

If the 408 runners in this year's Illinois Marathon had started running at the first serve, 405 would have crossed the finish line before it ended.

Sections (3):Illini Sports, Sports, Tennis