Wimbledon 2018: Anderson scripts incredible comeback to dethrone Federer

After cruising in the first two sets and holding a match-point in the third, the Swiss succumbs to the South African in five-set cliffhanger

Top-seeded Roger Federer suffered a shock defeat in a match he seemed to have firmly sewn up before Kevin Anderson undid him stitch by stitch to stretch it to a long and feverish fifth and going on to win 2-6, 6-7(7), 7-5, 6-4, 13-11.

There wasn’t the faintest warning that the match would turn into a cliffhanger, with Federer sauntering through the first with customary balletic ease. He broke the rangy 6 ft 8 in South African in the very first game and then held his own serve easily to go up 2-0, consuming all of four minutes. 

Sealing set in style

Serving with a deceptive languor, Federer was secure and invulnerable, while Anderson struggled to hold his own, handing Federer a second break and a 5-2 lead. The first set was quickly closed out with a heart-stopping half volley Federer played on the run, without so much as even bothering to bend a knee.

The stage seemed set for another brisk three-setter and the crowd seemed reconciled to witnessing another Federer masterclass, a walk in the park rather than a closely run marathon.

Defending Wimbledon champion Roger Federer was shocked by South African Kevin Anderson in a thrilling five-setter at Wimbledon 2018 tennis championship, in London on July 11 2018.

Defending Wimbledon champion Roger Federer was shocked by South African Kevin Anderson in a thrilling five-setter at Wimbledon 2018 tennis championship, in London on July 11 2018.
 
| Photo Credit: Reuters

 

The statistics seemed to make the same case. Anderson had never taken a set off Federer in the four times he had played him. And Federer hadn’t dropped a set at Wimbledon since 2016. 

In the second set, Anderson had begun to find a semblance of rhythm with the baseline exchanges becoming longer. He went up 2-0, breaking the Federer serve for the very first time this Wimbledon, achieved substantially by errors from the Swiss, and consolidated the lead to go up 3-0.

But it was tempting to see this as an aberration with Federer bouncing back immediately to level the game and then the tie-breaker, even if narrowly at 7-5 after having built a comfortable 6-3 lead that he squandered by extravagant over-hitting.

As the match progressed, Anderson’s serve, a formidable weapon, began finding the corners, helping to pull himself out of trouble when needed. He was also hitting more winners off groundstrokes, while small errors started creeping into the Federer game.

Hanging on

The third set saw Anderson hanging on as the two traded fierce baseline exchanges. 

Federer had his chances and won one more point in the set than Anderson did. But he failed to convert four break-points, the last of them a match-point in the 10th game. 

Anderson, however, took one of the two offered his way, enough to win the set 7-5, stunning the audience as well as commentators who hadn’t seen this coming.

Better baseline exchanges

But there was more to come. Growing in confidence, Anderson dominated the fourth set winning 79% of his service points, having the better of the baseline exchanges, and seizing the break he earned through sustained aggression.

The final set was even-handed with both players giving very little to the other, each winning a striking 75% of the service points on their games. Inevitably, the match went the whole length and then some more, until Anderson grabbed the only break-point in the entire set. He then finished the match with a service winner, raising both arms in an endearingly low-key and dignified celebration. 

On Monday, the 32-year-old had declared he was playing some of the best tennis of his career and that he can be “dangerous” when he does so. On Wednesday, he certainly was.

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