The 28th seed won Saturdays first semi-final to become the first South African to reach a US Open final since Cliff Drysdale in 1965
While Arthur Ashe Stadium resembled a coliseum on the second Friday of the 2017 US Open the 28th seed Kevin Anderson serving his way past 12th seed Pablo Carreo Busta to Sundays final in a match strong on grinding, light on magic Jamie Murray completed a mixed week for Dunblanes favourite tennis family when he and Martina Hingis reached the finals of the mixed doubles.
While Anderson was compiling 22 aces in a 4-6, 7-5, 6-3, 6-4 win over the elegant but outgunned Spaniard with absorbing, attritional tennis on the tournaments main court, Murray and Hingis, the Wimbledon champions, got the job done in a tight tussle with the Romanian Horia Tecau and the American CoCo Vandeweghe, 6-4, 7-6 (8) on the more intimate, half-filled Grandstand court.
Anderson, who like Andy Murray decided against hip surgery at the start of the year, is the first South African to reach the US Open final here since Cliff Drysdale lost to Manuel Santana on the grass of nearby Forest Hills in 1965. (Both are at Flushing, Drysdale as a TV commentator, Santana in support of Rafael Nadal.) Johan Kriek won the 1981 Australian Open while still holding a South African passport, before successfully defending that title as an American citizen the following year.
Andersons win maybe lacked the light touch of the contest between Drysdale and Santana, but it was enthralling none the less. Carreo Busta, a thoughtful player who has had an excellent season and had not dropped a set on his way to the semi-final, found Andersons big hitting a problem, yet gave him his toughest match of the tournament.
Anderson, who put Andy Murray out in the fourth round in 2015, has gone largely unnoticed until the later stages here, even in the half of the draw that had been laid bare by injury and upsets, but he had gone about his job without fuss. He had been broken only three times in 87 service games, saving 15 of 18 break points, until he cracked in the first set on Friday.
He regrouped quickly enough and was all over his opponent at the end of the second set, getting stronger in the third before being pushed to the limit in the fourth. He struck 58 clean winners, alongside 43 unforced errors as he strove time and again for the quick point. In a tense finish, there were precious few of those.
His defence and returning formed the foundations of his victory, although his foe proved stubborn all the way. Carreo Busta saved two break points in the seventh game of the fourth set, and was 40-love up serving to stay in the tournament moments later. He battled through five deuce points before holding, saving one point with a between-the-legs tweener on the baseline.
Strong, fit and seasoned at 31 after surviving years of injuries, Anderson got to use his biggest weapon, his mighty serve, to put the finishing touches to his effort in just under three hours, but not before Carreo Busta won a 38-shot rally, the longest of the match, then another of 24.
The Spanish wall finally collapsed, as even a shanked second serve could not stop the man from Johannesburg. He looked as relieved as his opponent was spent when Carreo Bustas last tired effort billowed the net. It was not a classic, but it did not want for total effort by both men.
Anderson, who dropped to 80 in the world after missing the Australian Open with a hip injury, will lift him for one final effort in Sundays final.
He said immediately afterwards, Its been a long road. Weve been privileged to play in these tournaments against some of the games great players; it was nice for some of them to give us the opportunity to do this [by the absence]. Its why we worked so hard. It was an unbelievably tough match for both of us. I really had to dig deep there. Im just over the moon. Ive given myself one more shot.
Last year, I was told I probably needed surgery on my hip, but here I am just nine months later. This means the absolute world to me.
He also name-checked his British coach, Neville Goodwin, whos been with me for years.
Earlier, after a match that could not have provided a bigger contrast in style, Hingis said of her undefeated mixed doubles run with Murray, Jamie carried me pretty much for an hour and half. Im the older player. But he did great.
Asked what their secret was, Murray smiled and said, I picked the best partner. Weve fought through some super tough matches. She made some great shots at the end there, off the baseline. Were looking forward to the final.
It was ideal preparation for Saturdays final, where they will be favoured to win a second slam title when they play the third seeds, Taipais Hao-Ching Chan and the New Zealander Michael Venus, in the final on Saturday. While reaching for glory, they will not lack for financial incentive.
Murray and Hingis, who are unbeaten since pairing up at Wimbledon this summer, would have shared a relatively puny $US30,000 if they had lost on Friday [$20,000 less than a first-round loser in the mens and womens singles draws; the singles champions each take home $3,700,000], but are now guaranteed a $70,000 pot as finalists and would split $675,000 if they won the title.
It was not easy. Murray gifted their opponents set point when he butchered a drop shot in the second-set tie-break, and Vandeweghe who was devastated after losing in the singles semi-finals to compatriot Madison Keys on Thursday – grabbed another with a sublime lob. Tecau turned villain, netting a simple volley. Hingis grabbed match point with an uncompromising drive down the middle and Murray stepped up to do the rest, forcing a final wide return from Tecau.
Hingis, who came out of a six-year retirement in 2013, is also in the womens doubles final on Sunday, but said her body was holding up OK.