Novak Djokovic described his epic Wimbledon tussle with Kevin Anderson as “one of the most difficult I have ever played” after the No 1 seed advanced to the quarter-finals.
The Serb overcame Anderson in a titanic struggle to win 6 7 (6 8) 6 7 (6 8) 6 1 7 4 7 5 in a duel that spanned two days on Court One.
The No 1 seed finally pierced Anderson’s serve to break him in the fifth set and he put the giant South African to the sword in the next game to secure the match.
It completed a remarkable comeback for Djokovic, who had looked dead and buried at two sets down yesterday and will now face Marin Cilic for a place in the last four.
But the defending Wimbledon champion’s enduring class and power were too much for his opponent, who will rue not putting this match to bed yesterday before bad light stopped play.
Djokovic said: “I think Kevin served exceptionally well. I found it one of the most difficult matches I’ve played. At times I was really helpless with my returns. He was very aggressive.
“I thought it was high-quality tennis in the fifth set.I was two sets down. To come back and win in five gives me great satisfaction and confidence for the next challenge.
“This was one of the most difficult matches that I have played at Wimbledon in my career.
A decisive fourth game in the fifth set had given Anderson another opportunity to bury Djokovic’s hopes.
But the No 14 seed let two break points slip as Djokovic hauled himself back from the brink to win a crucial game.
The longest rally of the match came in Djokovic’s next service game and Anderson’s obdurate play had Djokovic repeatedly raising his arms to the sky in a gesture of frustration at his opponent’s tenacity.
On serve, Anderson rained down a volley of rockets that Djokovic could only slash at wildly, but unforced errors were harming the South African and Djokovic rattled through his next service game without dropping a point to make it 4 4.
He did the same in the next and finally pounced on Anderson to break him and make the score 6-5 with a clearly rattled Anderson hitting two double faults.
Serving for the match, Djokovic hauled himself back from 0 30 before finishing a crestfallen Anderson and planting a kiss on the Wimbledon turf.
Djokovic said: “At times I was helpless with my return – it was very difficult to read his serve.
“I was two sets down and coming back to win gives me great satisfaction and confidence for my next challenge.”