It was Friday the 13th. So it wasn’t a huge surprise that a few wacky events took place at Wimbledon.
But what transpired, from 1 p.m. when John Isner and Kevin Anderson walked onto Centre Court until 11:05 p.m., when Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic walked off with unfinished business, was beyond anyone’s imagination.
Chapter 2 is called The Sportsmen.
WIMBLEDON – When it was over, and the South African Kevin Anderson became the first from his country to reach a Wimbledon men’s singles final in nearly a century, so many of his thoughts were for his opponent.
His muted reaction after the marathon six-hour, 36 minute, 7-6(6) 6-7(5) 6-7(9) 6-4 26-24 was surely, in large part, sheer exhaustion and disbelief.
But it was also a respectful and remarkable show of respect towards Isner.
“Just playing like that, really tough on both of us. At the end, you feel like this is a draw between the two of us, but somebody has to win,” Anderson said during a thoughtful interview right after he came off the court.
“John is a great guy and I really feel for him because if I was on the opposite side, I don’t know how I could take playing for that long.”
Anderson apologized for not “seeming more excited”, which under the circumstances was completely unnecessary.
“To be honest, he’s really pushed me throughout my career as well. He’s had such a great career. I’ve pushed myself harder because of some of the successes he’s had,” Anderson added.
Isner a gracious loser
After it was over, and Isner saluted the crowd, he did what only a few runners-up do. He went over to the stands, to the fans who eventually filed in to fill the Centre Court by the end, and signed autographs.
“I competed hard. That’s what it comes down to. That’s what I have to be proud of. It stinks to lose, but I gave it everything I had out there. I just lost to someone who is just a little bit better at the end,” Isner said.
Just as Anderson credited Isner for pushing him, Isner did the same.
“Obviously a very good player, a contemporary of mine. We’ve been playing together for the longest time now. He’s someone that I have so much respect for because he works very hard at what he does. He’s someone that pushes me, I think. Maybe he’d say the same about myself. I mean, we’re about the same age. We’ve been doing this together for a long time,” Isner said.
“I see how professional he is. When I see him doing all the things that he’s doing, I think that’s a very good thing for me. It allows me to look at that and keep going, try to even work harder than he does, so… He’s one of the most professional players on tour. There’s a reason why he’s playing so well right now, because he does all the right things.”
Nadal and Djokovic: fan appreciation
The second semifinal got under way shortly after 8 p.m.
And despite the test of will and endurance of the first semifinal, Centre Court was all but full for the start.
Part of it may have been due to Wimbledon’s ticket resale system. And some of it was surely due to the fact that Nadal vs. Djokovic was the most anticipated matchup on the day.
If the fans who just couldn’t take any more sitting decided to leave, they could scan out at the exit and the ticket could be resold to a fan with a grounds pass or No. 1 Court ticket for just 15 pounds.
The lineup stretched and wiggled a long distance, during the latter stages of the Anderson-Isner match. And no doubt some of the patrons got a bonus trip to Centre Court they couldn’t have imagined when they entered the club many, many hours before.
But those fans – unless they have a Centre Court ticket for the women’s final on Saturday, won’t be able to see the dénouement.
And whether Djokovic and Nadal were aware of this, when they walked off the court for good shortly after 11 p.m. Friday night as play was suspended, they acknowledged the perseverance of the fans who stood by them until the very end.
First Nadal walked off, applauding the fans as he left. Given he’d just dropped a crucial set he had every shot at winning, that was extra.
Then Djokovic gave them the thumbs up, and went over to sign some autographs.
The circumstances were extreme for all parties involved in this crazy, insane day.
How great that it brought out the sportsmen in all of them.