Anderson heroics one of SA sport's great achievements

Lloyd Burnard
Lloyd Burnard

Cape Town - In the build-up to the Wimbledon final on Sunday, local broadcasters SuperSport did a fantastic job of gathering messages of support for Kevin Anderson ahead of what would prove to be a near-impossible task against Novak Djokovic

The Blitzboks sent words of encouragement from San Francisco, Proteas skipper Faf du Plessis from Sri Lanka and Olympic gold medallist Ryk Neethling from somewhere lavish in the Western Cape. 

The message that stuck out for me, though, came from unassuming SuperSport commentator Andy Capastagno, who was in Durban covering the Super Rugby match between the Sharks and the Jaguares. 

While most wished Anderson good luck, Capastagno offered a 'thank you'. 

"Thank you for turning me into a tennis fan once again," he said, adding that for the best part of a decade he had followed tennis without much passionate interest. 

What Anderson achieved at Wimbledon over the past two weeks cannot be underestimated and it will never be forgotten, and it gained cult following in South Africa.

There were the likes of John McEnroe who moaned and groaned their way through the epic six-and-a-half-hour semi-final against John Isner, but almost everyone else was captivated. 

McEnroe was more interested in the Djokovic v Nadal match that was being delayed, and his attitude towards the longest semi-final in the history of Wimbledon was blatantly disrespectful to Anderson and Isner, who left their lives out on that court. 

McEnoroe's childishness aside, Anderson earned the respect of the tennis world this past fortnight and he put South Africa on the tennis map in a way that has not been seen in the modern era.

Now 32, Anderson has flown under the radar for most of his professional career. 

To put things into perspective, he has 91 000 Twitter followers to Djokovic's 8.5 million. 

Social media aside, Anderson has also had to battle on the court.

There have been injury worries along the way, but even when fully fit the lanky Johannesburger has never really given any indication that he has what it takes to be a world-beater. 

When he made the US Open final at the end of last year and lost to Nadal in New York, Anderson had a relatively easy tournament run and while he had punched above his weight, it did have the feeling of a 'once-off' achievement. 

That has all changed now, and Anderson woke up on Monday morning as the new No 5 in the world rankings. 

He may have come up well short in the final against Djokovic, but what happened before that has given Anderson a place in Wimbledon folklore.  

He had no business beating Federer from two sets and a match point down, yet that comeback will go down as one of the greats. 

Then, just two days later, he beat Isner 26-24 in the fifth set and in another heroic display of determination. 

Throughout the tournament, and even in the third set of the final, Anderson would not go away. He fought for every point and, more importantly, believed that he could win every point. 

While there have been previous conversations around Anderson's commitment to South Africa because of his refusal to play Davis Cup tennis, there was no doubting his allegiance in London. 

And, as South Africans generally do, we rose to the occasion, forgot the past and backed our guy on the biggest stage. 

Anderson spoke fondly about South Africa throughout his campaign and he always made a point of thanking everyone from “back home” for the support.

With his body broken and his concentration stretched to its limit, Anderson handled himself with class throughout. 

That much was evident in his loser's speech on Sunday. 

There were no excuses and no tears, just a 'thank you' and a 'well done' to Djokovic. 

"We dedicate our whole lives to fight for a spot to be on this court," he said. 

That pretty much summed it up.

In the end, Anderson earned the right to live something that most tennis players will never get to experience.

He may not get there again, but even if he doesn't, Anderson's efforts at Wimbledon 2018 will be remembered for a long, long time.

In fact, it is not far-fetched to suggest that his run to the final is one of South Africa's great sporting achievements. 

Lloyd Burnard is a journalist at Sport24 and the former Sports Editor of The Witness newspaper ...

Disclaimer: Sport24 encourages freedom of speech and the expression of diverse views. The views of columnists published on Sport24 are therefore their own and do not necessarily represent the views of Sport24.

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