In 2010, John Isner won the longest match in tennis history at Wimbledon. Eight years on, the American was on the losing side of another epic, as Kevin Anderson reached the final in a match that took 6 hours 36 minutes.
In the end, it took something outrageous, innovative and totally unexpected to turn the tide of a semifinal that looked as if it would never end.
The match was so long, it prevented the second semifinal from being completed. Late into Friday night with the roof on center court closed and the lights on, play was suspended with Novak Djokovic leading Rafael Nadal two sets to one. The local authority for Wimbledon in southwest London only allows play to continue until 11 p.m. local time (2200 UTC). The match finished on Saturday, ahead of the women's final, with Djokovic coming out on top in a thrilling, five-set battle.
Serving supreme for Anderson and Isner
With the scores locked at 24-all and the sun dropping in the London sky, Kevin Anderson had a rare lead against serve after an excellent low volley, if only 0-15. Isner must've though he'd levelled the game up when his right-handed South African opponent fell to the turf but Anderson overcame the fatigue, sprung up and kept in the point with a left-handed forehand. The momentum of the moment carried the 2.03 meter player through to a break, before he held serve yet again to wrap things up 7-6(6), 6-7(5), 6-7(9), 6-4, 26-24.
Just over an hour earlier, when Isner took a 17-16 lead after five hours and 39 minutes, Friday's clash set a new mark for the longest semifinal in grand slam history, overtaking Stefan Edberg and Michael Chang's match at the 1992 US Open.
Bring in a tie break
After the match, and despite his victory, Anderson called for an end to the custom of not having tie breaks in the fifth set of Grand Slams.
"I’ve got so many mixed emotions. All I can say is congratulations to John on such a great tournament. Hopefully he can come back stronger," Anderson told British public broadcaster the BBC. "I really hope this a sign for grand slams to change this format. For us to be out there for that amount of time, I really hope we can address this.
"But at the same time I'm through to the final. I’m definitely going to have to recover as much as I can. It'll take a long time to process what’s happened today but I'm into the final and that's a dream come true."
Anderson also acknowledged that this one was still only just over half the length of Isner's incredible 70-68 fifth set win over Nicolas Mahut in the first round of the same tournament in 2010. That clash took 11 hours and five minutes over three days and the feat of endurance is marked by the All England Club with a plaque.
The signs that both men would be difficult to break came early and often, with the first three sets all decided by tie breaks, but the fourth set saw both men take a service game off the other. But it was Anderson who got the critical second break in game nine to take the set 6-4 and send the match to a decider.
The match became a slugfest, with both men continuing to rain down aces but struggle to make headway in their return games. Despite his history of epic contests Isner looked the more tired of the two men, falling 0-30 several times before Anderson finally took advantage to secure a second career Grand Slam final.