The good news for Kevin Anderson is that he is into his first Grand Slam final. The bad news is that he will be facing Rafael Nadal for the title, the world No.1 who has hit top form just when he needs to and who is now just one win away from a second Grand Slam title of the year and a 16th in all.
For one set – a brutal, brilliant set full of enormous hitting – it seemed like Juan Martin del Potro might be able to pull off yet another shock. His backhand, still building strength 18 months into his comeback from a third wrist surgery, was a revelation as he broke Nadal once to take it.
But that was like a red rag to Nadal’s Spanish bull and from then on, the two-time champion elevated his game to levels not previously seen over the fortnight as he charged his way to a 4-6, 6-0, 6-3, 6-2 victory, his 15th straight semi-final win at Grand Slams, a run that dates all the way back to his defeat by Del Potro in New York back in 2009, the year the Argentinian won the title.
“I was playing so-so at the beginning of the tournament, and I have been playing better and better every day,” he said. “I woke up today and said to myself: ‘today is the day that I'll play. I need to play with the right energy, and I need to increase the level of my game. I am very happy.”
It was a brutal, mesmeric exhibition of how to play a big match. Outplayed in the first set as Del Potro hit his backhand with more power than usual, Nadal made a tactical switch. It was a masterstroke.
“I decided to change completely to play much more forehands down the line, and then I was more unpredictable and he was more in trouble, because he didn't know where to go,” Nadal said. “He arrived much more times running to his backhand; when he arrives running to his backhand is completely different than when he is waiting the ball there.”
Having reached the final in Australia and won Roland Garros for a record 10th time, it has been a remarkable year for Nadal and now he’s one win away from a third US Open title, four years after his last.
Del Potro was philosophical about what might have been. “To be honest, I'm angry to lose a chance like this, but maybe tomorrow, after tomorrow, I will be calm and see how big the tournament was for me.”
Anderson makes his first final
The bottom half of the draw was ripe for the taking for someone, after the withdrawal of Andy Murray on the eve of the event. But while Sascha Zverev and Marin Cilic lost early, Anderson has beaten everyone who’s been put in front of him and on Friday, he wore down Pablo Carrena-Busta of Spain in four tough sets, 4-6, 7-5, 6-3, 6-4 to reach his first Grand Slam final.
Nervous in the early stages, he dropped his serve once to lose the first set as 12th seed Carreno-Busta’s consistency, a major factor in getting him to his first semi-final, put him in front. But Anderson quickly regained composure, cut out the mistakes and began to dominate. Serving well, he cracked huge groundstrokes from the baseline and once he had taken the second set, there was only going to be one winner.
After so many injuries, the 31-year-old is reaping the benefits of never losing hope, always working hard and always believing that if a door opened, he could kick it in. It’s been a lot of hard work,” he said.
"Coming into this week, I didn't think too far ahead. I mean obviously I love to be in this position. I felt deep inside I always had a chance, but you sort of put that at bay and focus on each match. That's what I have done. Here I am, almost two weeks later in the final, so that's obviously a great feeling.”
In reaching the final, Anderson set a bunch of firsts; the first South African-born player to reach any Grand Slam final in 32 years; the lowest-ranked finalist at the US Open in the Open era, the first South African to reach the US Open final in the Open era and also – let’s not forget – at 6ft 8in, he is the tallest player ever to make a Grand Slam final.
Hingis and Jamie
Jamie Murray and Martina Hingis continued their Grand Slam winning streak as they reached the final of the mixed doubles. Champions at Wimbledon in their first event together, they beat Horia Tecau of Romania and American Coco Vandeweghe 6-4, 7-6, winning the second-set tiebreak 10-8. They’ll meet Taipei’s Hao-Ching Chan and Michael Venus of New Zealand.
Rojer and Tecau make a statement
Jean-Julien Rojer and Horia Tecau won their second Grand Slam title together when they beat Feliciano Lopez and Marc Lopez 6-4, 6-3 in the doubles final. At the ceremony, Rojer, who was born in Curacao but moved to the United States at the age of 12, wore clothes with a special design, a message of support to those involved in the recent incident in Charlottesville.
“I just wanted to have the conversation (keep) going and promoting…freedom and justice, liberty for everybody on gender issues, on racial issues which we deal a lot with in this country,” he said. “I feel in tennis we don't say much about it (but) we deal with real life issues out there.”
Serena weighs in
And just a word on the women’s final, which will be played between Madison Keys and Sloane Stephens on Saturday afternoon. She may just have had her first child, but Serena Williams will be watching. “These amazing women continue to change the game and bring excellence, power, finesse and change to tennis,” Williams said.
Shot of the day
Del Potro was on top in the early stages but Nadal was already showing his incredible speed, with this run to a drop shot and angled pass simply out of this world
Quote of the day
“I don’t know if the team hug was appropriate for going to the finals, but it felt like the right thing to do,” Kevin Anderson, after jumping into the stands to celebrate with his team.