JOHN Isner versus Kevin Anderson in a Wimbledon semi-final. It was like a glimpse at the sport’s dystopian future, or at least it would have been if these twin peaks from the new world weren’t also thirtysomethings who had shown no inkling they could reach this stage in their nine previous visits to this tournament.

While the meeting of 6ft 8in South African and the 6ft 10in American played into the purists’ fears that tennis one day would become a physical freak show, contested by sportsmen such as Isner who could have had a fruitful alternative career in basketball, it was also a throwback to simpler times. Seeing these two men battering aces past each other at speeds north of 140mph was redolent of the 1990s, when the likes of Michael Stich and Richard Krajicek could serve their way to this title.

Compared to Rafa Nadal versus Juan Martin Del Potro or even Anderson versus Roger Federer, this slow, yet staccato semi-final will not last long in the memory, but it was grimly fascinating nonetheless, quite simply because the stakes were so high for both men. They could pretty much reach up and touch the highlight of their respective careers.

The South African 2017 US Open runner-up’s reward for becoming one of only five men to get rid of Roger Federer from two sets to love up was a match up with his mirror image. Breaking the Swiss legend’s serve for the first time in this tournament was hard enough, now he had to be the first to break the delivery of the first man since records began to reach the last four with his serve still intact.

And when it came to motivation, Isner had a trump card to play. Not only was he aiming for his first Grand Slam final, potentially the first American to reach a slam final since Andy Roddick went down to Roger Federer here in 2009, he quite fancied making history for something other than being the victor in the longest match ever played against Nicolas Mahut here in 2010. Not only that, but the Republican had requested an audience with tennis fan Donald Trump on Sunday should he make it. And just when you thought this year’s Wimbledon couldn’t get any weirder.

The least surprising fact on the stat sheet was the one which said Isner and Anderson were the two men who had won most tie-breaks on the Tour during 2018 respectively. To the shock of absolutely no-one, this became another tie-break fest. With Isner requiring regular treatment to patch up a finger problem, and Anderson disappearing off court for a medical time-out, we wondered what would have happened if the All England Club had just saved everyone the bother and insisted the match went straight to tie-breakers.

These two men, the No 8 and No 9 seeds, were so evenly matched it was unreal, both playing a first strike kind of game where the crowd must have been high fiving if they got a forehand as well as a first serve. The match began with the rarity of an Anderson double fault and the South African had three break points to save in his second service game but this was illusory. Save them he did and before long we were into the first tie-breaker of the day, the South African saving one Isner set point before nosing into the lead.

A solitary break point came Anderson’s way in the second set, but when a forehand volley from Inser warned off the danger, we were back into the tie-break. The American took it, pumping his fist at his demented friend Justin Gimelstob in the players’ box. He would be responsible for the American earning a warning for on-court coaching in the third set.

It wasn’t so much that these two men were incapable of breaking each other’s serve, just that they took two and a half hours to get the hang of it. Because even when he broke the Isner serve for the first time in the tournament for 5-3 in the third set, Anderson couldn’t serve out for the set. There was more whooping, hollering and fist pumping as the American finally took a set point. Don’t bet against him when it comes to a long match.

Anderson took things into a decider courtesy of a set where – shock horror – there were three service breaks in a row.