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US Open - Kevin Anderson vs Pablo Carreno-Busta semi-final preview

Kevin Anderson vs Pablo Carreno-Busta taks place this afternoon in the semi-finals of the 2017 US Open, with play scheduled to start at around 16:00 local time (21:00 BST).

The bottom half of the men’s US Open draw was decimated from the outset and plunged further into chaos with the withdrawal of Andy Murray and the swift exits of top seeds Alexander Zverev and Marin Cilic.

There was always going to be an opportunity for players to take advantage and put themselves into a position to contend for the title, and really, it comes as no surprise that Anderson and Carreno-Busta have jumped at the chance and taken it with both hands.

Anderson and Carreno-Busta are ultimate professionals, leave no stone unturned in their preparations, have fantastic hard-working attitudes on court and have been in tremendous form over the last few months. Yes he’s had a soft draw, but Carreno-Busta has navigated it with aplomb and hasn’t dropped a set on the way to his first Grand Slam semi-final, while Anderson took out home hope Sam Querrey in a dazzling display in a four-set epic that lasted until 2.00am. Both players deserve their shot at the big time, but who will take that penultimate step and reach a maiden major final?

It’s been a whirlwind season for Pablo Carreno-Busta and his fine form has continued into the U.S. Open, with his first appearance in the semi-finals of a Grand Slam set to propel him into the top 10 for the first time when the new rankings are released on Monday.

Carreno-Busta , the 12th seed, was the highest-ranked player in the bottom half of the draw when the third round commenced, and he’s solidified his status as one of the two best remaining players by producing some workmanlike performances to take down four qualifiers (the first time in the Open Era a man has faced that number of qualifiers at a major) - including ending the run of teenage sensation Denis Shapovalov - before registering his fifth straight sets win on the bounce with a clean 6-4 6-4 6-2 dispatch of 29th seed Diego Schwartzman, who himself had knocked out Marin Cilic and Lucas Pouille during his maiden run to a major quarter-final.

Carreno-Busta remains realistic about his run - he knows he couldn’t have asked for a better draw to reach a Grand Slam semi-final - but that doesn’t take away the confidence and belief he’s obtained over the last fortnight in New York.

“It’s incredible,” he said.

“It’s something that I always dreamed of, but never thought I could arrive here. I’m very excited to be in the semi-finals in this tournament.

"Of course I know that I have a good draw here. But when you have this draw, you have to do your best to take advantage, so I think that is a really good tournament for me. I know that I didn't win matches against top players, Top 10 or Top 20 players, but I am very happy with my tournament."

This isn’t the first time Carreno-Busta has seized his opportunity in a depleted draw of a significant tournament this season. The 26-year-old made his first ATP Masters 1000 semi-final at the BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells, widely regarded as the fifth slam on tour, and he only had to beat Peter Gojowczyk, Dusan Lajovic and Pablo Cuevas to do so, with Roberto Bautista Agut giving him a walkover in the R32. Carreno-Busta was well beaten 6-3 6-2 by Stan Wawrinka, but he illustrated his opportunistic qualities - and he’s done it again at the U.S. Open.

But he has also gone deep in big tournaments by taking the scalp of top players, demonstrating that he also has a dangerous game to boot. The Spaniard, who operates best on clay, defeated Grigor Dimitrov and Milos Raonic to reach his first Grand Slam quarter-final at the French Open, where unfortunately he was forced to retire against Rafael Nadal with an abdominal injury, a problem that also forced him out of Wimbledon. That means Carreno Busta hasn’t lost a completed match in a slam since the Australian Open - can he keep that streak alive and surge into a first major final?

Kevin Anderson (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
Not if Kevin Anderson has his way. The big-serving South African is back playing the best tennis of his career after his progress up the ranks was halted by a series of niggling injuries over the last 24 months, and now the 31-year-old has been rewarded for his unwavering persistence and hard work on the practice court, with Anderson just one more victory away from contesting for a Grand Slam title.

It was two years ago in New York when Anderson upset Andy Murray and Dominic Thiem to reach his firs Grand Slam quarter-final, ultimately falling to Stan Wawrinka. A title the week before in Winston-Salem also contributed to him breaking into the top 10 for the first time, but that’s when disaster struck, knee, shoulder, ankle and groin injuries forcing Anderson onto the sidelines for extended periods throughout 2016, with his ranking dropping to as low as 70 as a result, while hip problems also saw him miss the Australian Open at the start of 2017.

Anderson has worked extremely hard to build up his fitness again, and all the training has been paying dividends over the last couple of months, with the South African reaching the Citi Open final in Washington D.C., the quarter-finals at the Montreal Masters and the R16 at Wimbledon. Perhaps realising the massive opportunity that could be waiting for him in New York, Anderson has been noticeably more animated on court this summer, constantly fist-pumping and showcasing positive body language. It’s an approach that has yielded success for Anderson, who has been consciously trying to improve his mental game, and he used that part of his game to full advantage in his quarter-final triumph over Sam Querrey, lifting his level in the crucial moments of a narrow four-set victory - 7-6(5) 6-7(9) 6-3 7-6(7) - that finished close to 2.00am local time on Wednesday.

“It was an incredible match,” said Anderson, who is the first South African to make a Grand Slam semi-final since Wayne Ferreira at the Australian Open in 2003.

“Matches like that, you sort of focus on getting through right there and then and look at the bigger picture afterwards. I have put in a lot of work. It definitely feels good that I have reached some milestone that I haven't before.”

Anderson and Carreno-Busta have played twice before, with the South African winning both encounters in straight sets - the first on clay in Casablanca in 2013 and the second just a few weeks ago at the Montreal Masters in the R32. Anderson arguably has the upper hand in this match-up. He has a bigger serve, which is so important when trying to settle into big matches like slam semi-finals, and more power with his groundstrokes from the baseline. Carreno-Busta has added some layers of aggression to his game in 2017, but I just think Anderson’s peak level is above the Spaniards. Which means if Anderson plays his best tennis today , he will be sailing into the US Open final.

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US Open - Kevin Anderson vs Pablo Carreno-Busta semi-final preview

Kevin Anderson vs Pablo Carreno-Busta taks place this afternoon in the semi-finals of the 2017 US Open, with play scheduled to start at around 16:00 local time (21:00 BST).

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