Pablo Carreno Busta and Kevin Anderson are both just one match away from reaching their first grand slam final. Due to injuries and shock eliminations, the bottom half of this US Open draw has opened up invitingly for the 12th and 28th seeds. But only one player can make the final. Only one can take this is opportunity, one that they may never get again.
Someone will be making their debut in a grand slam final in New York on Sunday, that is what we know. What we don’t know, however, is who it will be.
For the only the sixth time in the past five years, a player will be making an appearance in their first major final. This is a big deal. Over the past 20 slams, 35 of the 40 finalists had been there before. Novak Djokovic alone competed in 15 of them while collectively, The Big Four of Djokovic, Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Andy Murray account for 75% of all final appearances.That figure rises to 81% if you stretch it to the past decade, all the way back to the US Open final in 2007.
The point is that we haven’t had a lot of new names competing for slams recently. The Big Four’s dominance over the elite competitions has been staggering, but recent injuries to Djokovic and Murray, as well as Stan Wawrinka, Kei Nishikori and Milos Raonic, has presented other, lower ranked players a valuable opportunity.
Even after the withdrawals of some of the best players in the world, early round defeats of Marin Cilic, Sascha Zverev and Jo Wilfried Tsonga opened up the draw even further. By the time the last 16 rolled around, and with the top remaining seeds Federer and Nadal in the top half of the draw, the average world ranking of the eight players left in the bottom half of the draw was a lofty 33.
Now those eight have been whittled down to just two, who tonight will battle it out for a place in the US Open final.
Pablo Carreno Busta, the 12th seed and at the age of 26, is enjoying the best year of his career. The Spaniard broke into the world top 20 following his semi-final appearance at Indian Wells and continued his good form with a quarter final appearance at the French Open, defeating Grigor Dimitrov and Raonic along the way. His first slam quarterfinal ended in disappointed, however, when injury forced him to retire against Nadal after just one set.
In New York, Carreno Busta has so far enjoyed a flawless campaign, cruising into his first grand slam semi-final without dropping a single set, but he is set to face a much tougher task in his semi-final opponent, the big serving Kevin Anderson.
At the height of 6’8”, Anderson appears an intimidating figure from across the net. In his 10th year on the tour and at the age of 31, Anderson only has one grand slam quarterfinal to his name, again in New York in 2015. Despite this, and because of his greatest weapon, Anderson is a formidable opponent. The ATP ranks him as the 7th best server on tour this year, with the South African winning an impressive 88.7% of his service games.
With just two previous meetings, there isn’t a lot of history between the two. Anderson has won both encounters however, once in 2013 and, more significantly, this year in Canada on a hard court surface. Anderson won in straight sets, clinching the decisive second on a tiebreak.
But this will be a little different. The winner will certainly be whoever best deals with the pressure of playing in their first grand slam semi-final, with the prospect of a historic, and potentially career changing, grand slam final just one match away.
The last player seeded outside the top 10 to reach a grand slam final was Tomas Berdych (12) at Wimbledon in 2010.
Now we are about to have another. May the best man win.