Check out Guitar George, he knows-all the chords
Mind he’s strictly rhythm he doesn’t want to make them cry or sing
They said an old guitar is all, he can afford
When he gets up under the lights to play his thing

Anderson likes dogs. His first pet was a Maltese Poodle called Lulu. His family got her when he was six. That was the same age he started playing tennis. Nowadays he’s accompanied on tour by Lady Kady, a “chaweenie” or Chihuahua and dachshund mix. She occasionally helps him practice before matches and her kisses, Anderson says, are therapeutic.

Lady Kady may have had a special treat on Wednesday night after Anderson became the first South Africa-born player to reach a Wimbledon semi-final since another Kevin did so 35 years ago. Boris Becker, the man who beat Kevin Curren in the final in 1983, said that Anderson had just played “the match of his life” to beat eight-time champion Roger Federer in the quarter-final.

Of course, Wednesday’s result was shocking considering that Federer had not had his serve broken even once throughout the tournament until then, and Anderson had never before been able to take a set off him. But still, to regard this as a fluke would be a mistake.

Anderson is a top-ten player who has been playing the best tennis of his career in recent months. Following last year’s run to the US Open final, this season he has already made it to the fourth round at the French Open, the semi-finals in Madrid, and the quarter-finals in both Miami and Indian Wells. His solid performance on both clay and hard courts has proved that he can play on all surfaces.

Much has been made of the fact that Federer had won all four of their previous encounters, but the last of those matches came in 2015. Anderson has been a different player since then. And while grass may not be his favorite, he does have a huge serve that can be very effective on it.

If ever there was ever a clue that the tall man could go deep at Wimbledon, it came in 2015. In the fourth round, Anderson had defending champion Novak Djokovic on the ropes. He won the first two sets in tiebreaks against the then world No 1. Djokovic ultimately went on to win that match, but the heartbreak for Anderson at the time must surely also have shown him what he might accomplish on grass.

I have been an Anderson fan ever since, and have often picked him as a dark horse in tournaments, much to the surprise of fellow tennis fans. At this year’s event, Anderson beat veteran Andreas Seppi, in-form Philip Kohlschreiber, and talented Gael Monfils before he faced Federer. “Kevindog”, as he is affectionately known to friends, may have been the underdog against Federer, but his victory might not be as huge an upset as those caused by the qualifiers who beat Rafael Nadal here in the last few years.

Late bloomer

If many are guilty of underestimating Anderson, it’s because he’s such a late bloomer.

Anderson is one of the few players on tour today who has climbed up through the American college tennis program. Last year, he became the first male player who has attended college to reach a Major final since Todd Martin at the 1999 US Open. In 2004, he was recruited by the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign, which had one of the best tennis programmes in the States at the time. Led by Anderson’s compatriot, coach Craig Tiley, Illinois had won the NCAA title the year before.

Anderson went on to become a three-time All-American in singles and two-time all-American in doubles. He won the national doubles championship with Ryan Rowe in his Sophomore year. In 2007, he led Illinois to the finals of the NCAA Division 1 team championships, where they lost to the University of Georgia in Athens. Anderson himself lost to American John Isner, the man he will face in this year’s Wimbledon semi-final. It’s going to be a battle of two former NCAA players who might well have played basketball instead of tennis. With Isner standing at 6’10” and Anderson at 6’8”, the combined height of the two semi-finalists will be a whopping 13 feet and six inches.

The college route has led Anderson to a late surge. After reaching his first Grand Slam final last year, he achieved his career-high ranking of seven this May, just a few days before he turned 32. While he broke into the top-20 for the first time five years ago, it’s really now, in his early thirties, that he seems to have made the breakthrough.

If his US Open run catapulted him into the limelight, it is his win over Federer this week, where he came back from a two-set deficit, that will hopefully compel fans and experts alike to take him more seriously. Anderson showed impressive poise in a long fifth set against his more experienced opponent and a partisan crowd.

More than tennis

He kept his nerve and refused to blink, nudging Federer to do so instead. He should go into the semi-final against Isner as the favorite. But even if he were to have a letdown after his big emotional win on Wednesday and lose the match, he should still go to the American hardcourts with a lot of self-belief. His continued success is a really good thing for men’s tennis, for Anderson is more than just a terrific tennis player.

Off the court, the South African is one of the most socially conscious and well-rounded guys on tour. He is using his voice to try and make a difference.

As elected Vice President of the ATP Players Council, Anderson hopes to use his position to influence players and officials to reduce the use of plastic on the tour. Plastic is used widely in tennis, whether it’s in the form of bags used to wrap tennis rackets in or water bottles players drink from. Anderson says watching the documentary A Plastic Ocean on Netflix proved to be “an eye-opener,” and he is now committed to raising awareness among his peers.

Some time ago, Anderson tweeted a picture with his mother at the Johannesburg Apartheid Museum, calling it a moving experience. He endorses Humanitarian Corridors, a project by the Community of Sant’Egidio which supports refugees seeking asylum in Italy. And his pet cause, pardon the pun, might just be animal adoption as he lends vocal support to shelters such as Dezzys Second Chance Animal Rescue, the place where he found Lady Kady.

Kady is not the only lady who accompanies Anderson on the tour. He is married to Kelsey, whom he met at college where she was a member of the golf team. Their 2011 wedding was suitably Illini-themed, and included a Fighting Illini-decorated cake and street sign.

Together, Kelsey and Kevin, along with a former coach, have started, a website that offers tennis instruction and information about life on tour.

Kevin Anderson’s height and serve can be intimidating on court. But off court, he is a laid-back guy who enjoys his life and plays guitar to unwind. Whether he’s making pancakes in Vienna or or jamming with the Bryan Brothers, it looks like he’s having a good time.

The Dire Straits fan is going to try and rock the All England Club once more on Friday, as he goes for a second Grand Slam final appearance as well as revenge against his old NCAA rival. But no matter what happens, it looks like Kevduck – his other nickname – is already in pretty good rhythm. There’s no reason why he shouldn’t just keep on strumming.

Oindrila Mukherjee tweets here.