Arthur Ashe Stadium was mostly filled, but in anticipation of the Rafael Nadal-Juan Martin del Potro blockbuster that was scheduled later, the crowd was mostly subdued during the first US Open men’s semifinal.
The players, though, told a different story. Both into the first Grand Slam semifinal of their careers, a massive opportunity lied ahead, and you could see it in their intensity, their doggedness and their ground strokes.
Would they ever get this chance again? Most likely not, and you sensed that they’d be the first to admit that.
Ultimately, power and experience prevailed over athleticism and consistency as Anderson came back from a first-set deficit to beat Carreno Busta, 4-6, 7-5, 6-3, 6-4.
The 28th-seeded South African, ranked 32nd in the world, is into his first major final. He’s the lowest-ranked man to play for the US Open title since the ATP rankings began in 1973, and the first South African since Cliff Drysdale in 1965 to reach the championship match at this tournament.
When the match ended, Anderson lifted his hands to his head and let his hat drop to the floor as he looked on in stunned disbelief. The 31-year-old climbed into the stands—not easy for a man who stands 6’8”—and graciously hugged his family and team.
It was a surreal moment for a man who was ranked 80th earlier this year, had a losing season (17-21) in 2016 and missed the first month of the season to recover from a right hip injury.
Carreno Busta, seeded 12th, hadn’t dropped a set in his first five matches, but he was simply overmatched by Anderson’s powerful serve. The big man had 22 aces—the one that ended the second set was clocked at 132 m.p.h.—to the Spaniard’s one and hit 58 winners to his opponent’s 21. Carreno Busta had 18 fewer unforced errors—he only committed one to Anderson’s 14 in the first—which kept him in the match, but he had to work significantly harder for points and games as it progressed. In the later stages of the semifinal, that expended energy certainly had taken its toll.
In 109 service games for Anderson in six matches this tournament, he’s been broken just five times.
Anderson will face either No. 1 seed Nadal or 2009 champion Del Potro in the final on Sunday.