Comfortable start for Kevin at Wimbledon

It is rare a No.4 seed with a proven track record as the Wimbledon runner-up a year prior would slip so comfortably under the radar.

But after 10 weeks out with a recurring elbow injury in a stop-start 2019, South African Kevin Anderson accepted there would be those who’d have had their doubts.

This was, after all, only his third match since Miami in March.

Rust was to be expected on Monday, surely. But there was none to be found.

The 6ft 8in 33-year-old masterfully conquered dangerous Frenchman Pierre-Hugues Herbert 6-3, 6-4, 6-2 in the first match on No.3 Court of The Championships for 2019.

With pregnant wife Kelsey and mum Barbara among his support crew watching on in the sun, Anderson made it his mission to ensure they wouldn’t have to sit through a lengthy affair.

They’d endured enough of those to last a lifetime at Wimbledon last year.

First there was his quarter-final showdown, in which he produced the shock of the tournament to dethrone Roger Federer from two sets and match points down to prevail 13-11 in the fifth.

That final set was less than half the number of games Anderson needed to edge a marathon 26-24 fifth set against John Isner in the semi-finals. That six-hour, 36-minute encounter ended up the second-longest match in Grand Slam history and prompted the introduction of Wimbledon’s fifth-set tie-break rule at 12-all from 2019.

A battle-weary Anderson ran out of steam against Novak Djokovic in the final two days later and departed the All England Club last July at a career-high ranking of No.5 for his efforts.

But after winning his season-opening tournament in India, 2019 has been littered with injury setbacks.

Having skipped the entire clay-court swing, Anderson was hungry.

While he had beaten Herbert in the pair’s only prior clash, it was on a hard court in the Winston-Salem final and much had changed for both in the four years since.

The Frenchman had found success on the grass at Wimbledon before – as the 2016 Gentlemen’s Doubles champions alongside Nicolas Mahut.

But after splitting from his compatriot earlier this year to focus more on singles, the 28-year-old’s decision had recently paid dividends.

The former doubles No.1 reached his first tour-level singles semi-final on grass at Halle leading in. It took eventual champion Federer to stop him in his tracks.

Herbert had reason to believe he had what it took to produce his first win over a top 10 opponent at a Grand Slam against what could have been a vulnerable No.4 seed.

But Anderson struck early as he broke to love for 3-1 and served out the opening set with a love hold and a fist pump at the 28-minute mark.

Anderson secured the immediate break to open the second set and after serving out a two-set lead he established the earlier buffer with another break to open set No.3.

It was one of those days for the South African. With everything going his way, even a shanked forehand passing shot dropped in as he closed to within a game of the finish line.

One final forehand pass completed the result at the one hour, 45-minute mark to ensure Herbert’s campaign shifted to a temporary return to doubles.

He was tasked with helping Andy Murray mount his return as Anderson’s comeback rolled on.

Next up for the No.4 seed, either Janko Tipsarevic or Yoshihito Nishioka.

Kevin Anderson:

“I’m really, really pleased with the way I played today,” Anderson said. “I knew it was going to be a tough match. To get off that match in straight sets is a great positive for me.

“It’s been, yeah, a very tough year. But I feel like the way my body felt today is very, very encouraging for me. Different expectations coming in right now given that I’ve not played many matches this year.

“But I think there’s a lot of positives I can take from today, and hopefully I’ll be able to keep building on that.”

On the introduction of a 12-all fifth-set tie-break:

“I feel like if a match is undecided at 6-6 in the fifth, that’s a good time to play a tie-breaker. I can completely understand them wanting to find a balance.

“Even though it’s 12-12, it’s a little bit more unique. I think it’s combining a bit of that historical element with this new direction. Overall, I think it’s a step in the right direction, protecting the players, protecting the schedule as well.”

Pierre-Hugues Herbert:

“For sure was not the best draw. Kevin is an amazing player … I didn’t do my best match, so I’m still a little bit sad about my match.

“But, yeah, things that can happen when you play the No.4 seed and when he plays well on a good day, it’s a tough round.”