WIMBLEDON -- After a four-hour, five-set epic that saw the fifth set go 24 games, and despite knocking out defending champion Roger Federer, the man with the coolest head in Wimbledon post-match was Kevin Anderson.
Anderson battled back from two sets down to upset the eight-time Wimbledon champion, eventually winning in five sets 2-6, 6-7 (5), 7-5, 6-4, 13-11. Anderson saved match point in the third set and went on to win in 4 hours and 14 minutes, booking his place in the semifinals in the process.
But Anderson is not letting his thoughts run away, drawing on his experience of reaching the final of last year's US Open. "I learned some valuable lessons throughout that tournament because coming in today, I think the way I approached the match was a bit more with expectations that I want to keep going," Anderson said. "As exciting as it is, I feel like I'm doing a good job of keeping it in perspective. There's hopefully two more matches still to be played. As of right now, I'm sort of more focused on that than getting too excited about the overall picture."
You could get long odds on Anderson, 32, to turn over 20-time Grand Slam champion Federer, having lost all four of his previous matches with the Swiss great without taking a single set. This was also Anderson's first appearance in the Wimbledon quarterfinals, becoming the first South African man to do so since Wayne Ferreira reached the last eight in 1994.
He is a bit of a sporting contradiction -- a quietly spoken man, with the loudest of bombastic serves. Breaking Federer was going to be his biggest challenge, as prior to Wednesday's match the Swiss had gone 81 service games without dropping serve. Even when he managed to do that in the second game of the second set, Federer recovered to break back and take it to a tiebreak, which the No. 1 seed won.
Anderson admitted he was "unsettled" in the opening exchanges, but though two sets down, with his serve under-par, Anderson then re-tuned and started to cause Federer all sorts of trouble, both with his serve and from the baseline. Crucially he saved match point in the third, with Federer's misfiring forehand letting him down, and then took it to a final set, where he eventually broke Federer and served out to a 13-11 win in the fifth.
For so long it had looked like Federer's championship to lose. He had brushed aside all four challengers en route to Anderson, including winning the first set of his Round 4 match against Adrian Mannarino in just 16 minutes. Few considered Anderson as having a chance.
But Anderson is playing the best tennis of his career, having reached the final at Flushing Meadows last September and then a career-high ranking of No.7 in May. And here at Wimbledon, there has been a quiet confidence about Anderson. Flying under the radar, he saw off Norbert Gombos, Andreas Seppi, Philipp Kohlschreiber and Gael Monfils en route to the quarterfinals, dropping just two sets in the process. Still the focus was on the big three in the men's draw -- Federer, Novak Djokovic and Rafa Nadal -- but Anderson believed he could surprise many with victory, constantly talking to himself throughout the game.
"I felt like I was just trying to keep myself very highly motivated, a lot of belief in myself, and said, 'Today is going to be my day.' Obviously it came very close to it not being my day," Anderson said. "I still think if had I lost that match point, I made a few steps in the right direction. Obviously getting through it, I feel like I can take bigger steps."
Anderson will now rest ahead of Friday's final-four match. He may well pause to take stock of a journey that started in Johannesburg with him gleaning as much knowledge as possible from international tennis magazines, cutting out articles on the sport's greatest rivalries, while pouring over the Grand Slams whenever they were broadcast on South African television. He touched post-match on an injury-ravaged 2016, and how his coaching team and nearest and dearest put him back together.
Now, there is an ongoing mission to continue flying the South African flag in tennis. He is by far their most successful current tennis player, with Chanel Simmonds the highest-ranked woman at 316 in the WTA rankings and Lloyd Harris, at 221, the next South African on the list in the men's log. He knows attention will be on him from back home, and has spoken of his hope to be an inspiration for the next generation.
"I have already gotten tons of messages from support back home," Anderson said. "Obviously at this sort of event, playing against an opponent like Roger is going to have a lot of coverage. Again, I really hope it's an example of sticking to your dreams and keep believing in yourself."
But back to the present, he will have to get used to the SW19 spotlight. After knocking out Monfils in Round 4, he spoke of the need to approach this match on his own terms. "The more I can just treat it like another tennis match, the better for me," Anderson said earlier in the week. But when it comes to Federer, it is never just another run-of-the-mill game. And when it comes to beating Federer, it's not a result that goes unnoticed.
Boris Becker said Anderson had played the "game of his life" and, to many, will be known as the man who ended Federer's run. But that will not be enough for him. He is still planning for two more matches here in SW19.
ESPN writer Aishwarya Lakshminarayanapuram contributed to this report.