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By Richard Pagliaro | Friday, September 8, 2017

Kevin Anderson worked a lifetime for this major moment.

He didn't meet it meekly.

Exhorting himself with shouts to punctuate screaming serves, an adrenalized Anderson ripped 22 aces powering past Pablo Carreno Busta, 4-6, 7-5, 6-3, 6-4, into his first US Open final.

Watch: Federer Sensed Defeat Coming 

“Definitely amazing feeling being in this position and have worked very hard to get here," Anderson said. "It feels great to be in the stage I'm in. More important, have given myself a shot at being in the finals and, you know, I will be playing for a Grand Slam trophy. That's an amazing feeling."




Contesting his 34th career Grand Slam, Anderson is the first South African to reach the US Open final since Cliff Drysdale, now the voice of ESPN tennis, contested the 1965 US Championship at Forest Hills.

The 31-year-old Johannesburg native is the first South African man to advance to a Grand Slam final since Johan Kriek, who is now a Florida resident like Anderson, won the 1981 Australian Open.

The former all-American at Illinois has transformed himself from the sometime skittish competitor at crunch time to a powerful presence who has commanded the biggest Grand Slam stage in the sport with confidence and clarity.

The 32nd-ranked Anderson, the lowest-ranked US Open finalist since the inception of the computer rankings in 1973, takes a considerable leap up in class in the final. He’s a combined 0-10 lifetime against possible opponents Rafael Nadal and Juan Martin del Potro, but if he serves with the menacing ambition he’s shown throughout the tournament he’s in with a shot against anyone.

"Nadal's, I think, one of the greatest competitors in sports, period," Anderson said. "He's an amazing fighter. You know, he really controls the court well, you know, the few times I have played him. I really need to be dominant and control proceedings as much as possible, because if you let him do it, it's very difficult."

In a match of Grand Slam semifinal debutants, the big man’s power and aggression trumped Carreno Busta’s consistency and court coverage.

Anderson crunched 58 winners—more than doubling his opponent’s 21 winner output—won 26 of 36 trips to net and erased two of the four break points he faced.

This was the ultimate opportunity match for both men in a US Open that’s the first Grand Slam to feature three double-digit seeds or higher since the 2002 Roland Garros.

When world No. 2 Andy Murray withdrew the day after the draw was released it created a chasm in the bottom half of the draw. Carreno Busta became the first man in Grand Slam history to defeat four qualifiers en route to the final four, but he was forced to counter-punch against the seeded power player today.

The tournament leader in aces smacked four aces and allowed just one point on serve building a 3-2 lead. Carreno Busta carved out the first break with a series of low balls that forced the big man to bend.

Luring Anderson forward, Carreno Busta drew a flat backhand deep breaking at 15 for 4-3.

On his third set point, Carreno Busta slid the wide serve taking the 33-minute opener playing exceedingly clean tennis. Mixing the body serve with the wide one, Carreno Busta committed just one error winning his 16th straight set.




Rattling out an error with a big backhand, Anderson earned his first break in the fourth game of the second set.

The 6’8” South African couldn’t make it stand.

In a stirring sequence, Carreno Busta rapped three passing shot winners, including bolting a backhand down the line to break back for 2-3.

Powering through a three-ace game, Anderson held at love for 6-5 then tightened the screws.

Pushing his first double fault of the day into net, a jittery Carreno Busta faced set point.




Measuring a mid-court backhand, Anderson blasted it crosscourt snatching the second set after 82 minutes.

It was the first set the Spaniard surrendered in the tournament.

Hammering haymaker returns down the middle, Anderson gained triple break point in Carreno Busta’s opening service game of the third set, but the Spaniard did not blink denying all three to level.

Continuing to rip his returns down the middle and rob the Spaniard of reaction time, Anderson earned break points in the fourth game. This time, Carreno Busta wilted spinning a double fault long to gift the break. The 28th seed powered through a love hold for 4-1.

On average, Anderson was serving about 20 mph faster first serves than Carreno Busta. Still, the Spaniard dodged a couple of set points holding for 3-5. A slider serve brought Anderson a third set point.




Rocketing a 120 mph ace down the middle—his 20th ace of the day—Anderson closed the third set. The big man blasted nine of his 20 aces and on 20 of 25 points played on his serve in streaking through the 39-minute third set.

Anderson, who began this season ranked No. 80 fearing he might need hip surgery, was one set from his first major final.

"In the third set, maybe I lost the way a little bit," Carreno Busta said. "He start to play really good.  He playing very focused on all his serve, and his way, and, well, probably in the third set, I tried to be good.  I think I play very good again. He was playing with confidence, was very good, and he was more aggressive than me.  Congrats to him, because we played very good match."

The two-handed backhand is the big man’s most reliable stroke and he banged it crosscourt for double break point. To that point, Carreno Busta had won the majority of points that exceeded 10 shots. Not this time, scrambling effectively, Anderson drained a wild forehand wide breaking for 3-2 in the fourth set.




Serving for the final, Anderson was sucking wind after losing a 38-shot rally—by far the longest of the match—on the opening point. Two points later, Carreno Busta won a 24-shot rally for 15-30. With a foot in the doubles alley, Anderson played an out ball but squeezed his volley inside the sideline. A bounce smash brought him to match point.

On the fourth shot of the ensuing rally, Carreno Busta stuck a forehand into net, an ecstatic Anderson pulled his baseball cap off his head and broke into a wide grin completing a two hour, 54-minute victory.

Anderson trotted over to his support box, used the court-side flower bed as a step ladder and climbed into his support box embracing coach Neville Godwin, his wife, Kelsey and support team.

The big man who embraced the moment spent his celebration giving his team a group hug.

"I feel like for me, some of the challenges have been to, I think, trust my ability a little bit more," Anderson said. "I have always been very critical about myself. I feel like I'm just being a bit more patient with myself. I feel like that's been a big change I have implemented in the last few months.

"Looking forward, all the stuff that I'm doing very well, I have worked very hard to, you know, when I'm out there, to hit a lot of good shots, and I definitely try and focus a bit more on the positive stuff now."

 

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