A GIANT obstacle stands between Andy Murray and the Wimbledon quarter-finals.
His name is Kevin Anderson, a 6ft 8ins beanpole from Johannesburg who yesterday became the first South African man since Wayne Ferreira 14 years ago to reach that stage of the tournament.
The 24-year-old thrashes an almighty ball from the service line and the back of the court, but for much of yesterday he was fighting a rearguard action against the explosive Fabio Fognini of Italy.
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Things looked bleak for Anderson when he trailed by two sets to one, and faced further break points on his serve. Even before the first set was over, the South African took a medical time-out to receive a lower-back massage.
But hang in there long enough and the Italian has a tendency to self-destruct. After two hours and minutes, the No.20 seed defeated Fognini, seeded 16th by a 4-6, 6-4, 2-6, 6-2, 6-1 scoreline.
Fognini's post-match press conference was no less incendiary. Given a point penalty and fined £20,000 in his first round match for abusing an official and making an obscene gesture at opponent Alex Kuznetsov, was given just one dressing down yesterday, for racket abuse, but he criticised the All England Club's rule and complained about his match being moved out to Court No.17.
"It's strange, because in first round, against a qualifier, I played on Court 18. I was seeded 16 and [Anderson] is at 20 and today we played on Court 17," Fognini said. "I like it here. The only thing I don't like is the rules.
Anderson, meanwhile, appeared star-struck when he entered the interview room, less about the prospect of facing Andy Murray on Centre Court than the fact he had just met Ricky Gervais, one of his comedy heroes. "I just bumped into Ricky Gervais upstairs, and I'm one of his biggest fans," he said. "Maybe I'll watch some of his stand-up before I play Andy. I went over and introduced myself. It was great."
Anderson also thought there was something funny about being banished to Court No 17, even if receiving only one ground pass for his entire entourage was no laughing matter.
"I am assuming it maybe had something to do with my opponent and some of his antics this week," he said. "But the biggest surprise was being able to get only one ground pass for a third-round match."
Both of these men had beaten Murray in their last tour meetings. Anderson's victory came in the Rogers Cup in 2011, a year after the Scot had got the better of him in their only previous grand slam encounter in Melbourne.
Like the Scot's banished opponent yesterday, Roberto Bautista Agut, Murray and Anderson, also now resident in Florida, have been known to share practice sessions.
Indeed, he has even had a practice session with Murray's former coach Ivan Lendl. "I have practised with Andy a few times and know some of the guys on his team quite well," Anderson said. "I've known Jez Green for a number of years.
"I got to know Ivan Lendl a little bit last year and practised with him a couple of months ago.
"We live in Delray Beach and Andy is in Vero, which is only about an hour away. But there is obviously a huge difference from a practice set to Centre Court at Wimbledon."
Whatever was wrong with that troublesome back of Anderson's, it was good enough to last five sets, and the South African went off into the night delighted with the fact he now had two clear days to rest it. While he eulogised about Murray's abilities, Anderson knows he can control his own destiny from the service line.
"The biggest challenge will be staying calm, regardless of what court we may be on or any of those outside factors," he said. "Really it's about me focusing on my game. If I do that and do it very well then I might have a few chances here and there."
Beating Andy Murray on Centre Court is a tall task all right. We will find out on Monday whether Anderson is up to the task.