John Isner was one win away from his first career Grand Slam title.
Playing in his 41st career major tournament and first ever major semifinal, the former Georgia star and national champion fell to Kevin Anderson of South Africa in five epic sets on Friday at the All England Club.
After his 7-6 (8-6), 6-7 (5-7), 6-7 (9-11), 6-4, 26-24 victory that lasted more than six hours, Anderson advances to the Wimbledon Final on Sunday, when he will play the winner of the other semifinal between Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic.
In a matchup of two of the tallest (Isner at 6 feet, 10 inches, Anderson at 6-8) and biggest-serving players on the ATP tour, Isner and Anderson expectedly played tiebreaks in each of the first three sets. Anderson won the opening set before Isner bounced back to take the next two.
After taking a medical timeout after the third set, Anderson surprisingly broke Isner’s serve at 2-all in the fourth. The former Bulldog broke right back to even the set once again.
Each player held his next serve before Anderson broke Isner again to go up 5-4 and then proceeded to serve out the set to send the match to a decisive fifth set.
At Wimbledon, there are no fifth-set tiebreaks, a rule with which Isner is extremely familiar, so one of the players was going to have to break the other’s serve at least once in order to reach the final.
That didn’t happen through the first 12 games of the last set, with each player holding serve to reach 6-all. Isner was serving first, with Anderson then having to hold each time in order to stay alive in the match.
Isner then fell behind 0-30 three separate games on his own serve, including facing one break point, before coming back to hold. The two went back and forth all the way to 12-all, essentially playing a full sixth and seventh set.
After each of his service games, Isner was one game away from the win, which was likely more agonizing than helpful, especially as Anderson continued to pummel aces and winners to bring things back even.
Isner appeared to be struggling at times from 12-all to 18-all, but he held firm on his serve as Anderson, playing his second-consecutive five-set match, found a second (or third or fourth) wind.
Anderson finally broke Isner to go up 25-24, including winning a point that featured him slipping and falling and then getting up to hit a return with his left (non-dominant) hand that continued the rally. After the break, Anderson closed out the match on his serve 26-24, after more than six and a half hours. The fifth set alone contained the number of games that would typically take up four sets.
Isner and Anderson were no strangers to each other, facing off all the way back to their college days, when Isner defeated Anderson, who played at Illinois, in the 2007 NCAA Men’s Team Final. Isner won that best-of-three match 7-6, 6-1. On the pro tour, Isner held the decided edge in their matches with an 8-3 record.
— Georgia Tennis (@UGAtennis) July 11, 2018
Anderson had beaten 20-time Grand Slam champion Roger Federer to reach the semifinal against Isner.
And another all-time great awaits him on Sunday in either Nadal or Djokovic. The Gentlemen’s Singles Final begins live from London on Sunday at 9 a.m. ET on ESPN.