Why Carreno Busta vs. Anderson is a lot less surprising than you think

Friday’s first U.S. Open men’s semifinal will be contested by…wait for it…Pablo Carreno Busta and Kevin Anderson.

Yep, it’s quite surprising all right. Neither player is in the top 10–or even the top 15 (Carreno Busta is 19th in the world; Anderson 32nd). Neither one had ever previously advanced to the semis of a Grand Slam, making this the first time since the 2005 French Open (Mariano Puerta vs. Nikolay Davydenko) that two slam semifinal debutants will go head-to-head with a spot in a major title match at stake. Anderson is lowest-ranked slam semifinalist since 2009 (No. 34 Tommy Haas at Wimbledon) and lowest-ranked at the U.S. Open since 2006 (No. 54 Mikhail Youzhny).

Of course this matchup would never have come to fruition at this stage of the New York fortnight if not for a smorgasbord of injuries to top players. Even Carreno Busta and Anderson would probably be willing to admit that. Novak Djokovic is out. Andy Murray is out. So, too, is Stan Wawrinka. Kei Nishikori and Milos Raonic also missed the year’s final Grand Slam.

But given the current state of the ATP Tour, is it really that shocking to believe Carreno Busta and Anderson were the ones who capitalized on an opportunity and battled their ways through the bottom half of the U.S. Open draw? It shouldn’t be.

Carreno Busta has been outstanding all season long. In fact, if the World Tour Finals field was set today, the Spaniard would be part of it. Not counting Wawrinka, who is out for the year, Carreno Busta will be seventh in the race to London on Monday unless he loses to Anderson and then either Anderson or Del Potro wins the title. The 26-year-old had already been to one major quarterfinal in 2017 (French Open) and finished runner-up at the 500-point event in Rio de Janeiro. Although he may be at his best on clay, Carreno Busta also made a run to the Indian Wells semifinals on the hard stuff.

“He’s had an amazing year,” Anderson assured. “Really consistent results now–at the French getting through to the quarters, and now through to the semis here. He’s obviously very confident.”

Anderson is clearly the same. And he isn’t your average world No. 32. The 6’8” South African broke into the top 10 during the fall of 2015 only to be struck down by various arm injuries the following season. This is a guy who, when healthy, powered into the 2015 U.S. Open quarterfinals (with wins over Dominic Thiem and Murray in the process) a few months after leading eventual champion Djokovic two sets to love at Wimbledon. Prior to this U.S. Open performance, Anderson reached the fourth round at both the French Open and Wimbledon, finished runner-up in Washington, D.C. (lost to current world No. 6 Alexander Zverev), and appeared in the Montreal quarters (lost to Zverev again).

Consider the draw, too. Among those favored to make it out of the bottom half ahead of Carreno Busta and Anderson were Zverev, Marin Cilic, John Isner, Jack Sock, Sam Querrey, and perhaps Gilles Muller and Karen Khachanov. Zverev is a mere 12-10 lifetime at Grand Slams and has still never advanced past a fourth round. Cilic did not play a single match in between Wimbledon and the U.S. Open. Isner has one slam quarterfinal appearance in his entire career. Sock has been a disaster since March. Querrey is Querrey. Muller is past his prime (34 years old) and Khachanov hasn’t hit his (21 years old).

But there really aren’t any strikes against Carreno Busta and Anderson. And so they aren’t out–not yet, at least.

“Because I believe in myself,” Carreno Busta said when asked to pinpoint the biggest reason for his success. “I believe more than the last years.”

Yes, the draw was lopsided. No, they did not have to compete with likes of Roger Federer, Juan Martin Del Potro, Thiem, Grigor Dimitrov, and Nick Kyrgios, among others. But believe this: the two players in the bottom half with the most impressive combination of current form and experience made it out.

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