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Former Illini Kevin Anderson falls to Novak Djokovic in Wimbledon Final

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All you can say is wow.

Day Thirteen: The Championships - Wimbledon 2018 Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images

You did it again, Kevin Anderson!

Like last September when Anderson made a shocking run to the U.S. Open Final and became the first former Illini to ever make a major final, Anderson had Illini Nation watching tennis AGAIN this week — and it was even more impressive.

After disposing of world No. 1 Roger Federer on Wednesday, Anderson scraped past John Isner in the longest major semifinal match in history Friday. So when Anderson lost to Novak Djokovic — who claimed his fourth Wimbledon crown Sunday — in three sets (6-2, 6-2, 7-6), can you really blame him?

“I would just like to congratulate Kevin,” Djokovic said. “He’s had an incredible run. And being on his first Wimbledon Final, he didn’t play his best the first two sets, but that third set he was a better play. I wish him congratulations and all the best.”

Anderson had five chances to wrap up the third set and get back in the match, but Djokovic continued fighting back each time and won the tiebreak.

“The first two sets got up on me pretty bad,” Anderson said to the BBC. “I worked hard on it and tried to push it a point or two, but playing Novak isn’t easy, he’s a true champion in the sport and congratulations to him and his team.”

Anderson might already be 32, but there’s a good chance the South African native is just hitting his stride; he just keeps running into some big names in these finals (Rafael Nadal last year, Djokovic this year).

It’s no question that Illinois has one of the nation’s premier tennis programs. Since 1997, Illinois has had 31 All-Americans, including Anderson three times, and won the national championship in 2003 as a team.

But it’d be really, really awesome if Anderson could keep up this success and drive the Illini’s fanbase to follow tennis more often than just when he makes a deep run in a major. I think there’s potential there, and it certainly would’ve helped to win one of these majors, but he’s captivated the fanbase in a time when people just want anything to cheer for.

Anderson’s “disappointing” showing Sunday is likely due to the two marathon matches he played in the past four days, especially the 278 serves Friday and having his elbow rubbed after Sunday’s first set, according to @tumcarayol on Twitter.

Friday’s match versus Isner took six hours and 35 minutes, which is a long time, even for a tennis match. After the fifth set that he won 26-24, Anderson was as humble — and tired — as he could be on BBC.

“I don’t really know what to say right now,” Anderson said. “Just playing like that, in those conditions, is really tough for both of us. But somebody has to win. John is such a great guy, and I really feel for him. I apologize I’m not more excited right now.”

Anderson advanced to the semifinals after taking down Federer, who had a two-set advantage and had won a record 34-straight sets at Wimbledon, but Anderson took the final three, including an epic 13-11 final set.

Anderson is also the tallest finalist in Grand Slam history, standing at 6-foot-8.

A Johannesburg, South Africa, native, Anderson was the lowest-seeded player in U.S. Open history to reach the singles final. Most world-class tennis players never compete at the collegiate level, but Anderson, 32, did, and ESPN ran a story about that last year.

Anderson became the first Wimbledon semifinalist to since 1996 to even have played tennis collegiately.

Most people are impressed with Anderson’s backhand. He may be a late bloomer, but he has four ATP singles titles and 12 runner-up finishes.

Anderson’s going home with 1.125 million pounds, too, so it’s not a bad outcome to be runner-up.