Asmussen | Despite loss in Wimbledon final, Anderson earns respect of peers

Asmussen | Despite loss in Wimbledon final, Anderson earns respect of peers

In the 2004 movie "Wimbledon," Paul Bettany's "Peter Colt" rallies from a huge deficit to beat a heavy favorite for the championship.

That was fiction.

Real life was a lot different for former Illini Kevin Anderson. The South African, who won two titanic matches to get to Sunday, didn't have much left.

He fell to now-four-time Wimbledon champion Novak Djokovic 6-2, 6-2, 7-6 (3) on a steamy day in London.

There was no Hollywood ending for Anderson. But there was definitely respect. Djokovic, who won as the No. 12 seed, praised his opponent.

"He has had an incredible run," Djokovic said. "In the third set, he was a better player. I was just quite lucky to get through."

Anderson never quit. Even after dropping the first two sets.

It was not his day. It happens in sports. As Anderson showed in spine-tingling wins Wednesday and Friday, you never know.

You never know when that ball hits the net and trickles over will be the start of something big.

Anderson gave himself several chances in the third and final set. He had five set points. Literally fractions of inches kept him from playing on.

Fans at the packed Centre Court would have loved (tennis term) to see it. So would Anderson.

"In the first two sets, Novak beat up on me pretty bad," Anderson said during a postmatch interview. "This whole fortnight, I really tried my best to keep at it. I came within a point or two of pushing it to a fourth set."

It didn't work out. Not this time. Djokovic closed it out in the third-set tiebreaker.

Smart moves

Afterward, Anderson was given the plate that goes to the runner-up. By the way, as they think about changing the tiebreaker rules (bad idea), they might also want to do something about the hardware they give away. Nothing says "Great job" like a pizza dish.

There were other rewards. Anderson earned $1.488 million as a runner-up.

Anderson wisely thanked the great fans in London.

"This is such an amazing tournament for all of us players and we dedicate our whole lives to try to fight for a spot to be on this court," Anderson said. "I would have given another 21 hours to have the opportunity to play out here. It really meant a lot to me."

They applauded themselves as fans like to do.

Anderson thanked his wife (former Illini golfer Kelsey O'Neal) and family and the people of his native South Africa.

There were plenty of home-country flags waved before and during the match.

Anderson hopes to see more tennis stars from his country in the future.

"Hopefully, in 20 years, somebody may be standing here with that trophy saying they saw me playing here and I was their inspiration to get here," Anderson said.

The Illinois tennis program played a role Sunday, too. Announcers Chris Fowler and the brothers McEnroe (John and Patrick) brought it up during the ESPN telecast.

It has to be a good thing for Brad Dancer's program. When the recruits ask "Any pros from Illinois?" Dancer can say "let me tell you about Wimbledon ..."

Dancer made a mad dash to London after Anderson reached the finals. It wasn't easy, involving a long flight and little sleep for a guy who has plenty on his plate.

When coaches talk about a "family atmosphere" being there to support ex-players is a big part of it. So, give Dancer high marks.

He'll be back

That makes it two Grand Slam finals for Anderson in the last year.

There will be more. Maybe a lot of them. Yes, he is 32, but a young 32. As the brothers McEnroe said Sunday, few, if any, players are in better shape than Anderson.

To play as well as he did in the quarterfinal against Roger Federer and the semifinal against John Isner shows Anderson's ability.

He will finish the next one off. Maybe at the U.S. Open in late August. Anderson reached the final last year, losing to Rafael Nadal 6-3, 6-3, 6-4.

Champaign-Urbana jumped in during Wimbledon. That sound you heard very early Sunday morning was bacon sizzling and coffee brewing for tennis breakfast.

The community has long supported the program, which had large crowds for the NCAA tournament.

Anderson gives the tennis fans another reason to crow.

He is already considered among the best in school history, earning a spot in the second Hall of Fame class.

All that's left is a Grand Slam win.

To be continued.

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

Sections (3):Illini Sports, Sports, Tennis