By Pritha Sarkar
LONDON (Reuters) - It was a case of better late than never as Kevin Anderson reached his first Wimbledon final with a heart-stopping 7-6(6) 6-7(5) 6-7(9) 6-4 26-24 win over the sport's perennial ultra marathon man John Isner on Friday.
After being kept on the run for six hours and 36 minutes, the longest ever singles semi-final at the All England Club, how the 32-year-old was still standing was anyone's guess.
When it was all done and dusted, there were no wild roars, no fist pumping and no raised arms in celebration - all Anderson had left in him was to give Isner a sympathetic hug after he came out on top in the second longest match ever contested at the All England Club.
"I don't know what to say right now. Just playing like that in those conditions was really tough on both of us. At the end you feel like it is a draw, but someone has to win," a drained Anderson, who had sensationally beaten defending champion Roger Federer in another nail-biting five setter two days ago, said.
"John is a great guy and I really feel for him. If I was on the opposite side I don't know how you can take that playing for so long and coming out short... getting through something like that is quite different.
"I've known John for such a long time, he is a great guy. To be honest he has pushed me through my career and had a great one himself. I have pushed myself harder because of the success he has had. I have to say congratulations to John on a great tournament, semi-finals here is a remarkable achievement and hopefully he can come back stronger."
Playing Isner who is enshrined in Wimbledon folklore for winning the "endless match" - an 11 hour five minute humdinger against Nicolas Mahut in 2010 - Anderson needed five nerve-shredding sets to topple the American and become the first South African man to reach the Wimbledon final for 97 years.
A showdown between two tennis skyscrapers - with Isner topping the 6 foot 8 Anderson by two inches - predictably featured three tiebreaks and 102 thunderbolt aces but it was the 32-year-old South African who delivered the knockout blow.
After watching Isner strike a weary forehand wide, Anderson advanced to the Wimbledon final at the 10th time of asking.
The eighth seed will face either twice champion Rafael Nadal or three-times winner Novak Djokovic in Sunday's final.
Brian Norton was the last South African man to reach the final in 1921.
(Reporting by Pritha Sarkar, editing by Ken Ferris)