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Tennis | Wimbledon

Why the 32-year-old South African can win Wimbledon



There have long been doubts over whether mild-mannered Kevin Anderson had the killer instinct to take his game to the next level.

> > > Anderson faces Isner from 2pm on Friday, Djokovic and Nadal thereafter. Live on SS6 on DStv Now...

A man whose work ethic was never in doubt, the South African felt if he could keep his body healthy, a more demonstrative disposition in his matches would evoke that fire inside.

In recent years, he had made a concerted effort to become more vocal to get those competitive juices flowing.

There was a flipside. So much outward expression was expending too much unnecessary energy.

After dethroning Roger Federer from two sets and match point down in a four-hour-plus thriller on Wednesday, Anderson felt he finally had that emotional balance just right.

“I think the toughest thing players face when going out playing somebody like Roger in this setting is giving yourself a chance. I feel like the times that I've played him before, or other guys sort of with his ranking and history, I haven't really allowed myself to play.

“The first set was an example of that. I was really proud of myself the way I was able to relax, play my game. That's a big goal that I've had.”

Those big milestones are beginning to mount for the late-blooming 32-year-old. While having briefly snuck into the top 10 in 2015, his past 18 months have been a standout.

Until last September, Anderson had never reached a Grand Slam semifinal. Now he has reached two in under a year.

A maiden Grand Slam final ensued in New York, where he bowed to world No 1 Rafael Nadal in straight sets. Ten months on, the experience from that run will prove invaluable.

“I think it's quite different. At the US Open, because it was pretty new being in the semis and in the finals, it was a lot of excitement, a lot of emotions. I think going into the finals, there was maybe a bit too much relief that, ‘Hey, I'm in the finals’, and didn't give myself as much of a chance to win that match from a mental side,” Anderson said.

“I learned some valuable lessons throughout that tournament. Being in the quarterfinals here for the first time, I think the way I approached the match was a bit more with expectations that I want to keep going.”

Anderson has not paid an ounce of attention to head-to-head records this Wimbledon. He notched his first win in six attempts to see off Gael Monfils in the fourth round and his first over Federer in five attempts in the quarterfinals.

His semifinal opponent, John Isner, leads the pair’s head-to-head record 8-3 but that counts for little as they have not met in nearly three years.

If he clears that hurdle, Nadal or Novak Djokovic await. Anderson has not beaten Nadal in five prior meetings, including last year’s US Open final but those first Slam final nerves wouldn’t be a factor this time around.

ALMIGHTY SCARE

In the fourth round at Wimbledon 2015, Djokovic survived an almighty scare from two sets down to deny Anderson 7-5 in the fifth. The Serb went on to claim the third of his Wimbledon crowns. The pair haven't squared off since and their career paths have crossed in opposite trajectories.

Against any of the three standing between him and a maiden Grand Slam title, Anderson need only draw on his efforts against Federer.

This is a man who now genuinely backs himself to not only go the distance with the big guys, but to get across the line.



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