LONDON (Reuters) - Top seed and reigning champion Novak Djokovic pulled off a great escape at Wimbledon in beating South African Kevin Anderson on Tuesday after five tense sets to reach his 25th successive grand slam quarter-final.
In a match spanning two days, with the top seed fighting back to two sets all in fading light on Monday before play was stopped and carried over, Djokovic walked away a mightily relieved man with a 6-7(6) 6-7(6) 6-1 6-4 7-5 win.
“I think he served exceptionally well. This was one of the most difficult matches I have played at Wimbledon and maybe in my career,” the world number one said after a final set in which his frustration and pent-up emotion was audible.
He now faces U.S. Open champion Marin Cilic of Croatia in the last eight.
The players had walked out to cheers for the final set but the entry proved premature, with umbrellas going up and the rain covers hurriedly pulled across Court One as the pair returned to the locker room.
When the match did re-start, 16 hours and 33 minutes after the previous point was played, Djokovic was immediately back in the line of fire.
Anderson blasted down two aces, followed by a backhand volley and another bullet that fizzed past Djokovic, to hold serve without giving the Serb any hope of replying.
Djokovic saved two break points in the fourth game, holding serve for 2-2, with Anderson -- who served 40 aces to his opponent’s 13 -- keeping up the pressure by rattling through the next game to love.
In the sixth game, after winning a key point, he let out a scream that left a ball girl shaken even if the ire was directed purely at himself.
“I just took out everything I had, not on anybody but me. I was looking at the box, but I was talking to myself,” he said. “It’s particularly frustrating when you’re playing somebody that serves this well and doesn’t give you any look at the break.”
The games went with serve to 5-4, with Djokovic needing all his focus as he served to stay in the match.
He then broke Anderson to go 6-5 up as the South African suddenly lost his aim and doubled-faulted twice to 15-40 before scooping a Djokovic service return into the net.
“I came a lot closer this time than I have in the past. But it just wasn’t close enough,” said Anderson.
Reporting by Alan Baldwin, editing by Ken Ferris