LONDON -- It took 99 games and three tiebreakers over five sets that lasted well over six hours, but South African Kevin Anderson finally reached the final at Wimbledon on Friday.
Anderson won the longest Centre Court match in history and earned a chance to try to collect his first Grand Slam championship, edging American John Isner 7-6 (6), 6-7 (5), 6-7 (9), 6-4, 26-24 in a 6-hour, 36-minute marathon.
The fifth set alone lasted nearly three hours as the semifinal became a test of endurance more than skill. Anderson, the No. 8 seed, finally earned the must-have, go-ahead service break with the help of a point in which the right-hander tumbled to his backside, scrambled back to his feet and hit a shot lefthanded.
"That definitely brings a smile to my face," Anderson said. "At that stage, you're just trying to fight in every single moment, and I was like, 'Just get up!'"
Anderson had break points at 7-7, 10-10 and 17-17 before finally earning the decisive break -- drawing a massive roar from the crowd. He then converted his first match point when Isner sent a shot wide.
"At the end, you feel like this is a draw between the two of us," Anderson said. "John's such a great guy, and I really feel for him, because if I'd been on the opposite side, I don't know how you can take that, playing for so long and coming up short."
The 6-foot-8 Anderson and 6-10 Isner go way back to their college days, Isner at Georgia, Anderson at Illinois. In the pros, Isner had won 8 of 11 previous matchups. But this one was as close as it could be.
The 99 total games made it the longest Grand Slam semifinal match in the Open era, beating the previous mark of 90 set by Rod Laver and Tony Roche in the 1969 Australian Open.
It will be the second Grand Slam final for Anderson, who became the first South African man to reach the Wimbledon final since 1921. He reached the final of the US Open last year before losing to Rafael Nadal.
The match shattered Wimbledon semifinal records for number of games (the previous record was 72) as well as duration -- besting the previous mark by 1 hour, 52 minutes.
Surprisingly, it wasn't the longest match in the history of Wimbledon, which dates to 1877. Isner was a part of that one as well in 2010, beating Nicolas Mahut 70-68 in the fifth set after 11 hours, 5 minutes -- the longest match at any tournament.
Isner also broke the record for most aces in a Wimbledon tournament. His 53 on Friday gave him 214 for the fortnight, beating the mark of 213 set by champion Goran Ivanisevic in 2001.
Not to be outdone, Anderson had 49 aces of his own in the match.
"He stayed the course incredibly well," said the No. 9 seed Isner, who was playing in his first major semifinal. "Just disappointed to lose. I was pretty close to making a Grand Slam final, and it didn't happen."
Anderson, 32, will vie for the title on Sunday against three-time champion Novak Djokovic, who finished off his semifinal victory against Nadal on Saturday. The second semifinal was ultimately suspended after three sets due to the tournament's 11 p.m. curfew, with Djokovic leading 6-4, 3-6, 7-6 (9).
Headed home. I appreciate all the encouraging messages from everyone. Congrats to @KAndersonATP on the win and best of luck in the final. More importantly, thank you for your class and humility in victory. @Wimbledon see you next year. Sorry for screwing the schedule up today 😳 pic.twitter.com/qlbFcoyl6z— John Isner (@JohnIsner) July 14, 2018
Anderson also played an extended fifth set in the quarterfinals, eliminating eight-time Wimbledon champion Roger Federer 13-11 in the final set.
Wimbledon doesn't use tiebreakers in the fifth set for men, or third set for women, so there's nothing to prevent a match from continuing ad infinitum. Both Isner and Anderson said they'd like to see that change.
"It's long overdue," said Isner, who suggested changing the rule to using a tiebreaker at 12-all in the fifth set. "I'm a big part of that, and a big part of this discussion, of course."
At one point in the fifth set, a spectator shouted, "Come on, guys! We want to see Rafa!"
Isner was trying to end the longest major title drought -- 58 majors -- for U.S. men in tennis history. The last American man to win a Grand Slam singles title was Andy Roddick at the 2003 US Open.
The Isner-Anderson match was the first Grand Slam men's semifinal to go past 6-all in the deciding set since the 2013 French Open, and the first at Wimbledon since 2001.
By the end, Isner was looking exhausted, leaning over to rest a hand on a knee between points.
"I feel pretty terrible," Isner said afterward. "My left heel is killing me, and I have an awful blister on my right foot."
Besides playing for the Wimbledon title, there was plenty of financial incentive for both players. The winner of the match was guaranteed $1.5 million, depending on the outcome of the final. Isner will go home with $743,322.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.