LONDON (Reuters) - It took Kevin Anderson an exhausting and draining 21 hours to crawl into a Wimbledon final and once he got there on Sunday there was no tea and sympathy waiting for him as Novak Djokovic dismissed the South African in three sets.
For the 16th successive year a member of the ‘Big Four’ had again locked out all opposition, with Djokovic repeatedly caressing, hugging and kissing the gilded Challenge Cup as if he had been reunited with a long lost friend.
As the Serb claimed the trophy for the fourth time, it continued the remarkable domination shown by Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, Andy Murray and Djokovic at the All England Club as the quartet are the only ones who have had the honour of lifting the famous pineapple-topped cup since 2003.
Even when one of them falters early in the championships, as twice champion Nadal did several times from 2012 to 2017, or is out injured, like Murray this year, there is always one of the Big Four waiting to slam the door shut on would-be intruders come finals’ day.
“This is such an amazing tournament for all of us players and we dedicate our whole lives to fight for a spot to be on this court,” Anderson said after he was outclassed 6-2 6-2 7-6(3) by Djokovic following his marathon run to the final.
“Over the last few years, there’s only been a few individuals who’ve made it out here so that’s what it had to take for me to get here. I would have given another 21 hours to have the opportunity to play here.”
Anderson must have felt he had already played a few championship matches over the past week as he produced some super-human performances to stay alive.
He incredibly came from match point down to topple eight-times champion Roger Federer 13-11 in the fifth set of a quarter-final that lasted over four hours.
But no one was rushing out to hand him a trophy.
He then survived the longest ever semi-final played at any of the majors when he went toe-to-toe with American John Isner for six hours and 36 minutes before finally delivering the knockout punch to win the fifth set 26-24.
His reward? A dip in the ice-bath to give his “sore” and “swollen” feet, and “jelly-like” legs a chance to recover.
Unfortunately for Anderson, the 43-hour gap he had between the end of his semi-final on Friday and the start of Sunday’s showpiece was simply not enough to get his fatigued and battle-weary body ready for what was the biggest match of his life.
“I barely slept on Friday night. Saturday was pretty tough,” said Anderson, who has now lost two major finals in 10 months after finishing runner-up to Nadal at the 2017 U.S. Open.
“Seeing the doctors, seeing the podiatrist for my feet. There were a lot of thoughts going through my mind... ‘Am I going to be ready to play another five-set match on Sunday against somebody like Novak?’
“My body didn’t feel great.”
If Anderson wants any tea and sympathy, he will be better off seeking out Mark Philippoussis, Andy Roddick, Tomas Berdych, Milos Raonic and Marin Cilic - the five other men who have tried and failed to gatecrash the Big Four’s exclusive club at Wimbledon.
But it was not all doom and gloom for the 32-year-old South African - as his progress to the final allowed him to break into the top five of the world rankings for the first time.
“Two and a half years ago we (set up) a chat on WhatsApp called top-five Kev. That was the goal,” he said.
“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 80. It’s really something I can be very proud of... and use it for continued motivation moving forward.”
Reporting by Pritha Sarkar, editing by Ken Ferris