Kevin Anderson became the first South African man in 97 years to reach the Wimbledon final on Friday after downing John Isner in the second longest Grand Slam singles match ever played.
The 32-year-old Anderson triumphed 7-6 (8/6), 6-7 (5/7), 6-7 (9/11), 6-4, 26-24 after six hours and 36 minutes on Centre Court.
Isner previously won the longest ever Grand Slam singles match against Nicolas Mahut, lasting 11 hours and five minutes over three days in the 2010 Wimbledon first round.
Anderson, the first South African Wimbledon men’s finalist since Brian Norton in 1921, faces Novak Djokovic or Rafael Nadal in Sunday’s showpiece.
It was the longest semi-final ever played at Wimbledon, surpassing the four hours 44 minutes it took Djokovic to beat Juan Martin del Potro in 2013.
It was also the second longest match at a Slam, beating the six hours and 33 minutes which Fabrice Santoro spent seeing off Arnaud Clement in the 2004 French Open.
“I don’t really know what to say right now, playing like that in those conditions was really tough for both of us,” said eighth seed Anderson.
“It feels like it’s a draw but somebody has to win. John’s a great guy. I really feel for him.
“I don’t know how you can take it playing for so long and coming out the wrong side.
“I apologise if I’m not more excited right now. At the end you don’t even feel that great out there, but at the same time I’m through to the final.”
Anderson finished with 49 aces and 118 winners; Isner had 53 aces and 129 winners.
“It just seems cruel and unusual punishment for these guys,” former champion John McEnroe said on the BBC as he commentated on the match
The marathon tie meant that the Nadal v Djokovic semi-final was to be played under the roof as the light began to fade just after 8pm.
After beating eight-time champion Roger Federer, also over five sets in the quarter-finals, 2017 US Open runner-up Anderson claimed his 300th career win.
Anderson will now attempt overturn a losing record against both Nadal (5-0) and Djokovic (5-1).
For the first time in the Open era, the semi-finals were made up exclusively of players over 30.
Anderson saved three break points in the third game of the first set before Isner had to save a set point in the 10th.
That service hold — helped by a 129 mph (207.6km/h) second serve — took the American to 100 service games unbroken at this Wimbledon.
However, Isner was then unable to convert a set point of his own in the tiebreak before 32-year-old Anderson wrapped it up thanks to a netted return.
The 33-year-old American’s composure wasn’t helped by a delay caused by a ball boy slipping and falling.
– 52nd meeting –
Isner then shrugged off needing treatment on a blistered serving hand, found time to usher a ladybird to safety before levelling the match in another tiebreak off his 19th ace.
Anderson broke through for a 5-3 lead in the third set, ending Isner’s run of serving invincibility at this year’s Wimbledon at 110 games.
He couldn’t capitalise, however, and was broken straight back before Isner claimed the ensuing tiebreak having saved two set points.
It was a similar tale in the fourth set where the South African broke for 3-2 only to hand the break straight back.
But this time he dug deep to break again in the ninth game on his way to levelling the semi-final at two sets apiece.
Anderson had break points in the 15th, 21st and 35th games of the decider before taking victory when a weary Isner hit long.
Nadal and Djokovic will meet for the 52nd time.
Nadal, the 2008 and 2010 champion, trails Djokovic, the 2011, 2014 and 2015 winner, 26-25 in a rivalry which began at Roland Garros 12 years ago.
Nadal, 32, is back in the semi-finals at Wimbledon for the first time since 2011 when he finished runner-up to Djokovic.
He is chasing an 18th Grand Slam title which would put him just two behind Federer.
Victory on Friday would put him in a sixth Wimbledon final and 25th at the majors.
Djokovic, meanwhile, is seeking a fifth final at the All England Club and 22nd at the Slams.
The 31-year-old is eyeing a 13th major after making the semi-finals of a Slam for the first time since finishing runner-up at the 2016 US Open.