Well, plenty of time has passed now, and people are still chattering about that crazy U.S. Open men’s quarterfinal, that four-set emotional roller coaster. That’s right, folks: Sam Querrey vs. Kevin Anderson.
It would have been easy to dismiss Tuesday’s late-night match off the bat. Various Tall Men, the stars of Wimbledon, have followed up that feat with deep runs at the U.S. Open. That this one was attempting to follow Venus vs. Kvitova, one of the tournament’s best contests, on Arthur Ashe, made it an even tougher sell. Part of me would have been okay if we had them jog on a treadmill for 30 minutes, play a tiebreak, treadmill, tiebreak, and so on, best of five. It would have gone a little faster. And would the resulting match have really been so different?
The answer, actually, is yes. It’s easy for me to forget, amid the big height stats and massive serving, the other skills these players flaunt. After all this is the weirdly resurgent 2017 Sam Querrey who who smoked Nadal in Acapulco; who made the Wimbledon semis, flashing all kinds of touch I didn’t know he had; who played the most dominant match of the tournament, a total vivisection of Mischa Zverev—55 winners and just 8 unforced errors in a tidy 77 minutes of play. That Sam Querrey is pretty good, and, it turns out, pretty interesting to watch, and in any case the local fans have been pulling hard for their countryman.
But there is also Kevin Anderson, that perennial first-week exiter of majors, now quietly having himself an excellent hardcourt season. This year’s Citi Open was, frankly, the first time that I got to watch him closely for a whole week and understand the finer points of his game, many of which have absolutely nothing to do with the natural advantages a 6-foot-8 dude may have. It’s time for the blog post every tennis fan was waiting for this morning: a lavish appreciation of Kevin Anderson, the 31-year-old who transcends the big stiff stereotype. There’s more here than just a big serve welded to a big forehand and a depressingly high tolerance for tiebreaks.
First, look at these clutch returns off honking Querrey serves—132 and 133 mph—that let him claw back from 2-5 down in the tiebreak to a 7-5 victory. This is what first alerted me to the possibility that Anderson was digging deeper into his bag of tricks than we’re accustomed to.
Then, my personal favorite revelation: Kevin Anderson has a hell of a backhand, friends, a fluid stroke with sweet knee bend and much smoother swing path than anyone north of 6-foot-6. The South African doesn’t win all these points, whether due to Querrey’s brilliance or bad net errors, but note how well he’s constructed them with these beautiful, emphatically struck backhands.
Still not convinced? Consider this rally, which could be confused for a Kei Nishikori/Andy Murray exchange. Okay, maybe an overreach, but still, gawk at the angle Anderson manages on that backhand coup de grace:
It is perhaps less surprising that Anderson has a whomping forehand, but yes, he has that too:
And be sure to enjoy these neat net reflexes too:
This match was great, much greater than a nearly empty Arthur Ashe stadium may have indicated. As you watch Kevin Anderson play Pablo Carreño Busta in the semifinals of the U.S. Open, an accurate sentence that I definitely just typed without pinching myself, take a moment to appreciate this large man who is far more versatile than the casual viewer may realize.