Screaming fans cramming every corner of Louis Armstrong Stadium transformed the longest match of the tournament into the loudest.
Gazing out at the frenzy from beneath his white baseball cap at the start of the climactic fourth-set tie break, Kevin Anderson looked like the calmest guy in the place.
His booming serve just wouldn’t shut up.
The fourth round had been a stumbling block for Anderson, but tonight it was a launching pad.
The 15th-seeded South African smacked 25 aces and roared through the fourth-set tie break outdueling Andy Murray 7-6 (5), 6-3, 6-7 (2), 7-6 (0) in a four hour, 18-minute epic —the longest match of this US Open —to advance to his first career Grand Slam quarterfinal.
Winless in seven prior Grand Slam fourth rounds, Anderson answered with what he called “one of the best matches of my life” beating a Top 10 opponent for the first time in a major.
“Coming out here playing Andy is a very tough match up. Honestly, I played one of the best matches of my life,” Anderson told ESPN’s Brad Gilbert immediately after the match. “To get to the quarterfinals for the first time here in New York feels amazing.”
A raging Murray’s streak of 18 straight Grand Slam quarterfinals was snapped as he suffered his earliest exit from a major since losing to then 27th-ranked Stan Wawrinka in the 2010 US Open third round.
Anderson will play reigning Roland Garros champion Wawrinka for a spot in Friday’s final four. And if he can recover from this draining drama and fire his serve with the same ambition and accuracy as he did tonight, the former all American at Illinois will have a solid shot against the fifth-seeded Swiss. Anderson has won four of seven meetings with Wawrinka.
Beating the 2012 US Open champion demanded a unrelenting aggression from the six-foot-eight South African. Amid growing fatigue and a frenzied crowd, Anderson’s commitment to thumping his serve and taking his cracks at any mid-court ball kept the two-time Grand Slam champion unsettled.
Playing with poise and purpose, Anderson delivered 81 winners. His willingness to move forward, take floating replies out of the air and finish at net neutered Murray’s defensive wizardry. Anderson won 41 of 58 trips to net, more than doubling Murray’s output in the front court while frequently forcing the Scot to counter off his back foot.
“I was playing an excellent player. He served extremely well,” Murray said. “That court is a lot quicker than Ashe. I felt I was on the back foot a lot. I wasn’t able to play offensively, but when you’re playing against someone who has the game style he does you’re always going to have to do a fair bit of defending —especially if he serves well.”
Holding both serve and his nerve, Anderson denied eight of 11 break points he faced. More importantly, he eradicated the ghosts of seven straight losses in Grand Slam fourth-round matches.
Two months ago, Anderson built a two-set lead over Novak Djokovic at Wimbledon. But the big man could not close and double faulted on match point suffering an agonizing 6-7 (6), 6-7 (6), 6-1, 6-4, 7-5 fourth-round loss. Recalling that match helped him finish tonight.
“It was definitely on my mind quite a bit there becuase I felt we were playing some long points. It was a long match,” Anderson said. “I think it was important for me going into the match, thinking back to Wimbledon, the way I played there. That’s how I wanted to play again… He was getting the crowd going. I just really stuck to my guns and I think I played a great fourth set.”
Under pressure, the South African’s forehand can sometimes stray. Not tonight.
Anderson was hammering that shot in the early stages. A flat forehand down the line close the 69-minute opening set. Anderson had hit 10 forehand winners compared to non for Murray building a 4-1 second-set lead. Murray responded with a sarcastic fist pump toward his co-coach, Jonas Bjorkman, and his box.
On his fourth set point, Anderson thumped an ace down the middle that singed the center stripe as he took a two-set lead. Anderson doubled Murray’s winner output (13 to 6) leaving the ornery Scot dropping a fusillade of F bombs down on himself during the changeover while the Clash classic “Should I Stay or Should I Go?” blared over the sound system.
It was an appropriate anthem as a surly Murray continued griping about Anderson embarking on a bathroom break.
“Is there a time limit to how long the toilet break lasts?” Murray muttered at one point.
They traded breaks to start the third set. Murray broke again for a 3-1 advantage when the South African clanked a backhand. The lead was short-lived. Missing a running forehand to surrender serve, Murray wound up and spiked his Head racquet to the court to punctuate the break. Dissatisfied with the destruction, he finished the job on the changeover, smashing the stick to the court again then walking over to the crowd and handing it to an exuberant fan in the third row.
The mild-mannered Anderson seldom showed emotion until he threw a fist pump after running down a Murray lob and ripping a forehand pass. That shot, and the gesture, earned an eruption from the crowd as Anderson eventually held to force the tie break.
Settling down, Murray won five of the first six points of the breaker, collecting a 5-1 lead on a net-cord winner. The crowd urged the Scot on with a “Let’s Go Andy!” chant as they changed sides. Murray’s wife Kim and his entire support box stood as he sliced a serve winner down the middle for set points. Slashing an ace wide—his 12th of the match—Murray seized the 70-minute third set.
At the four-hour mark, a feisty Murray bent an ace down the middle, celebrating a love hold by high-fiving a fan in a blue shirt in the front row.
A netted backhand put Murray in a 30-all bind in the 12th game. He answered charging forward to knife a backhand volley ending a 19-shot rally—one of the longest exchanges of the match—for 40-30 four hours and 12 minutes into the match. Another slice ace down the middle sent the drama into a tie break.
Showing plenty of life left in his legs, Anderson launched a 135 mph blast to open the breaker. Battering Murray backward with a deep return, Anderson earned the mini break and a 2-0 lead. Plastering a forehand return winner crosscourt off a 99 mph serve Anderson was up 3-0.
An adrenalized Anderson brought some serious gas, slamming a 138 mph ace for a 5-0 lead. A 22-shot rally ended with Murray spraying a forehand wide giving Anderson multiple match points. He needed only one.
Unloading on a punishing return, Anderson thrust his arms in the air. In his 27th career Grand Slam appearance, the 29-year-old who calls Delray Beach, Florida home finally got over the finish line.