Tennis

John Isner celebrates win by watching other tall athletes in NCAA Tournament

John Isner hits a shot against Nicolas Almagro at the Sony Open tennis tournament in Key Biscayne on March 24, 2014.
John Isner hits a shot against Nicolas Almagro at the Sony Open tennis tournament in Key Biscayne on March 24, 2014. Miami Herald Staff

John Isner, all 6-10 of him, is the top-ranked U.S. tennis player in the world. That’s a pretty nice title to own.

Unfortunately, his ranking of No. 24 is not as high as most American tennis fans would like it to be, and for that matter, it’s not as high as Isner would like it to be. Isner took a step toward improving it Saturday at the Miami Open by handing 17-year-old Andrey Rublev of Russia a 6-4, 6-3 defeat.

Isner, 29, knows how he will celebrate his victory — watching college basketball, which makes total sense for anybody who is as tall as he is and played the sport as a youngster.

“I’ll grab an early dinner, sit back and just watch these teams duke it out,” he said. “My bracket stinks, but I think I have all my Final Four teams still alive. But prior to that, it wasn’t too good.”

As for his tennis game, he said, “I think I’m on the right track. I started the year off a little slow. My results this year haven’t been fantastic, but I feel like I have improved. I know I have.”

TOAST OF URUGUAY

Pablo Cuevas, who played Thomaz Bellucci on Saturday, rose to a career-high ranking of No. 21 this week. He is the highest-ranked Uruguayan in ATP ranking history.

Last season, he climbed 191 spots to No. 30 after returning from an injured right knee. He won two titles, in Bastad, Sweden, and Umag, Croatia, becoming the first Uruguayan to win a crown since Marcelo Filippini in May 1997.

Last month, he made headlines in the quarterfinals of the Rio de Janeiro tournament when he lost to Rafael Nadal in three sets in the second-latest finish in tour history — 3:18 a.m. The match started past 1 a.m. because all of the preceding quarterfinals went two or three hours.

Fans in Miami might remember him from 2011, when he reached the third round of the Sony Open after upsetting then-No. 8 Andy Roddick. Last week, he advanced to the third round at Indian Wells (California) for the first time.

RETURNING HOME

Plantation native Sloane Stephens in January returned to her childhood coach, Nick Saviano, after working with Paul Annacone last year. Stephens has been training at the Veltri Tennis Center in Plantation, and she feels right at home.

“It’s familiar,” she said. “Obviously, I’ve known Nick for a really, really long time. It’s a good place for me, and I think he’s been one of the most supportive people throughout my career.

“It’s nice to have someone like that in your corner through the ups and downs.”

CELEBRITY SIGHTINGS

Countess Alexandra and Princes Nikolai and Felix of Denmark were in Stadium Court watching Danish former No. 1 Caroline Wozniacki play and advance to the fourth round. Also spotted was actress Serinda Swan from the TV show Graceland.

But the celebrity who created the biggest buzz was Manny the Frenchie, a French bulldog from Chicago that is a social-media sensation. Manny has 800,000 likes on Facebook and 700,000 followers on Instagram, and had many fans on the tournament grounds who posed for pictures with him. He was in town for a fundraiser and made a side trip to the Tennis Center of Crandon Park.

He got a new outfit at the Lacoste booth, had his photo taken on Stadium Court and also posed with several tennis players, including Nadal, Stephens and Kei Nishikori.

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