WIMBLEDON — In the end, it was one match too far for Kevin Anderson.
There were no excuses afterward as he assessed his final defeat to Novak Djokovic — it’s just not his way — but fatigue and nerves underpinned his slow start to Sunday’s showpiece. Although he recovered in the third set, he failed to capitalize on his chances as Djokovic secured his fourth Wimbledon title.
After marathon matches against Roger Federer in the quarterfinals and John Isner in the semifinals, he just did not have enough left to stop Djokovic in his 6-2, 6-2, 7-6 (3) loss. Anderson’s previous two matches took nearly 11 hours collectively, and he clearly felt the effects in the first couple of sets. He struggled with his forehand and made a series of unforced errors, and his serve was also uncharacteristically off the mark, hitting only three aces through the first two sets.
To Anderson’s credit, he rediscovered his tempo in the third but squandered five set points to take the match to a fourth. Djokovic closed out the tiebreak leaving the South African still searching for his first Grand Slam title.
“I didn’t really find my form the way I wanted to,” Anderson said afterward. “Of course, my body didn’t feel great. I was definitely quite nervous starting out the match. … I didn’t play great tennis in the beginning. I tried my best to keep at it. I would have loved to have pushed it to another set, but it was not meant to be.”
After his mammoth match against Isner on Friday, Anderson struggled to sleep that night, fared better on Saturday but had lingering doubts over whether he’d be in optimum physical and mental shape to face Djokovic.
“When things aren’t feeling the way they should, you always have a little bit of doubt,” Anderson said, but again he did not blame lack of sleep or emotional strain for his final defeat. It was simply down to not being able to play the type of tennis he hoped to.
This was Anderson’s second Grand Slam final defeat, having lost to Rafael Nadal in the US Open final last year, but he is adamant this will not be his high-water mark. At age 32, Anderson is in peak form, with his run to the final promoting him to fifth in the ATP rankings.
“It really means a lot actually” he said. “It was about two and a half years ago, we [me and my coaches] had a chat group on WhatsApp called ‘top-five Kev.’ That was the goal. I got to top 10 that year. Things were looking good. Then obviously I had a major setback and injuries in 2016.
“So seeing that I made top five, I’m incredibly proud of that achievement, especially if I look back where I was just 15 months ago, around No. 80. It’s really something I can be very proud of. Even though today is not the result I was looking for, I think in the next few days, just seeing my new career-high ranking is going to mean a lot to me.”
Anderson is far from done and hopes his charge to the final will serve as further inspiration to any budding tennis players back in South Africa. When the dust settles, he can look back on a remarkable couple of weeks in which he won a heap of admiration for his heart-warming tributes to Isner after their mammoth semifinal. His voice is important in the game as a member of the player council, and again after the Djokovic final, he was asked about whether five-set tiebreaks are now a necessity, rather than a mere luxury.
“I think the incredibly long matches maybe have had [their] place and time,” he said, knowing full well the brutal effects they take on mind and body.
Attention for Anderson now shifts to the US Open in late August, and he still has a thirst to improve. He is still looking to fine-tune various aspects of his game and will take heart from his impressive showing here at Wimbledon. The Grand Slam title he craves remains elusive, but not necessarily out of his grasp.
“If you asked me this time a year ago, I don’t think I could sit here and say I really believe that I can win a Grand Slam and a Masters Series Wimbledon 2018 — Kevin Anderson takes inspiration from marathon run to final and say it with the same self-belief and confidence that I can now,” Anderson said. “Obviously, that’s by no means a sure thing whatsoever, but it’s a big starting point. It’s taken a long time to get to this point. I feel like I’m on a great path. I’m trusting the process a lot. I have to continue doing that.
“If I’m not in another Grand Slam final, it’s because maybe I just got unlucky. You can’t control everything. What I can control, I’m doing my best at doing. I have a lot of belief I can put myself into another one of these matches, and hopefully have the result that I’m looking for.”