In the semi-overlooked U.S. Open men’s semi on Friday, South African veteran Kevin Anderson, the tournament’s 28th seed, put No. 12 Pablo Carreno Busta in the crosshairs of his big serve and wore down the Spaniard, 4-6, 7-5, 6-3, 6-4.
It was a semi-dramatic match, played out in a semi-full Arthur Ashe Stadium, the first duel between a pair of first-timers in the penultimate round of a Grand Slam in 12 years, when Argentina’s Mariano Puerta faced Russia’s Nikolay Davydenko at the French Open.
Anderson now becomes the lowest-ranked U.S. finalist since the men’s tour rankings were introduced in 1973, and brings to Sunday’s championship match the most humble ranking in any major tournament since No. 38 Jo-Wilfried Tsonga played in the 2008 Australian Open title match.
“I really don’t know what to say right now,” said Anderson, whose hip injury took him out of this year’s Australian Open and dropped his ranking to No. 80. “It’s a been a long road.”
Yet it was made slightly smoother here by the injury absences of top-15 players Andy Murray, Novak Djokovic, Stan Wawrinka, Kei Nishikori and Milos Raonic.
“I feel privileged to play with the best players to every play the game,” Anderson said. “It’s nice of them to give me a shot to make this run. I’m just over the moon right now.”
This is Anderson’s 34th Grand Slam event, and only his second advance beyond the fourth round. He lost in the U.S. Open quarterfinals to Wawrinka two years ago.
On Friday, Carreno Busta stirred up some early concern for Anderson, a 31-year-old former University of Illinois all-American, seven games into the match with only the fourth break of Anderson’s first 91 service games of the tournament.
But the laws of physics seemed to catch up with the 26-year-old Spaniard soon enough, as the 6-8 Anderson rained down 22 aces, the fastest at 135 miles per hour, on Carreno Busta, a head shorter at 6-2. Carreno Busta got only one other service break the rest of the way.
Anderson hit 58 winners compared with Carreno Busta’s 21. More than semi-impressive.