Tennis

Playing his best tennis in a long time, Isner stuns the crowd favorite at the Miami Open

American John Isner returns a shot against Juan Martin Del Potro on Friday, March 30, 2018.
American John Isner returns a shot against Juan Martin Del Potro on Friday, March 30, 2018. pportal@miamiherald.com

American John Isner believes he’s playing unbeatable tennis at the Miami Open and a look at his results makes that assertion hard to refute.

Isner journeyed to his first Miami Open championship match with a stunning 6-1, 7-6 (2) semifinal victory over crowd favorite and fifth-seeded Juan Martin del Potro of Argentina on Friday.

There is no secret that the 6-10 Isner’s game is banked upon his serve. In the match against del Potro, he put up 13 aces and never extended the 2014 U.S. Open champion a break point opportunity.

Isner’s first four serves in the second-set tiebreaker came in fast and strong at 138 mph, 136 mph, 137 mph and 139 mph, respectively, to enable him to race to a 5-2 lead. He went on to win the final two points of the match with backhand winners off of del Potro’s serve.

“I’m playing the best tennis I’ve played in a very, very long time and I’m very happy to be doing it here,” Isner told the crowd. “Today was even my best match. Physically, I’m super fresh and I’m ready to go for the finals.”

Prior to arriving in Miami, Isner stood at an unimpressive 2-6 in matches played this year. Now he’s 7-5 with five matches won here, which he’s achieved without the loss of a set. His road to the final includes a fourth-round win over second-seeded Marin Cilic of Croatia, a quarterfinal victory over 19th-seeded Hyeon Chung of Korea, and the del Potro victory.

“Last year in the summer, I hit a run of form and was playing very well, but I wasn’t beating the calibre of players I’m beating now,” Isner said. “I just know with my game if I’m doing the right things it doesn’t matter who I’m playing, I’m going to be very tough to beat.

“On the flip side, if I’m not playing too confidently out there, and not doing the right things on the court I can be beaten by anybody as well. It’s been a very streaky year so far, but I’m very happy to be on the good side of that streak right now.”

The 32-year-old Isner’s journeyed to the final of a prestigious ATP Masters 1000-level tournament on four occasions in his career — at 2012 Indian Wells, 2013 Cincinnati and 2016 Paris — but has never hoisted the title.

Isner hoping to rectify that deficiency by winning his first Masters trophy in Miami. That possibility will depend on how he fares against the winner of the semifinal between fourth-seeded Alexander Zverev of Germany and 16th-seeded Pablo Carreno Busta of Spain in Sunday’s final.

While there is no denying that Isner played sublime tennis to end del Potro’s 15-match winning streak, the same could not be said for the Argentine.

Prior to the Miami Open, del Potro won consecutive titles at Acapulco and the Masters 1000 Indian Wells. Even as boisterous as the Crandon Park crowd was in rooting him on with continual choruses of “Ole, Ole, Ole, Delpo, Delpo,” the Argentine was a bit too flat and fatigued to persevere to the finish line.

“John deserved to win today,” said del Potro, who still leads Isner 6-4 in their career meetings. “He serves unbelievable. He plays great tennis on the tiebreak. He was too good for me.

“I have been feeling tight in all my body for the last couple of weeks, but when I get into the court I love to play tennis. I got too much love from the fans, and maybe that pains go away during the match.”

Isner was honest enough to acknowledge that he was lucky not to be facing a full-throttle del Potro in the semifinal.

“I had a feeling he could come out a little bit slow because he’s played so many matches and he’s understandably, sort of, running on fumes,” Isner said. “That was certainly a big advantage for me. I was much fresher than him and I think that played a big role today.

“Also, I did play my game well so that certainly helped.”

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