overhead smash

John Isner Advances Into Second Round at US Open

Although it looked like an upset on paper, John Isner’s form this summer has shown he is ready to start beating the top players on the ATP Tour.

In a match between two of the tallest players in pro tennis, Greensboro native John Isner fought off 10 set points in one of the longest tiebreakers in US Open history, and advanced into the second round with a 6-1, 7-6 (14), 7-6 (5) win over Victor Hanescu of Romania, the No. 28 seed in the event.

The first set was dominated by Isner. Holding serve easily and taking advantage of the lack of depth in Hanescu’s groundstrokes, Isner charged the net relentlessly, breaking Hanescu’s serve twice in seizing the opening set, 6-1.

“I started off so well,” said Isner. “That first set and a half was as well as I’ve played in a long time.”

After Isner broke serve early in the second set and held a break point to take a commanding 4-1 lead, the end result appeared to be a foregone conclusion. Hanescu saved the break point with an ace and Isner’s forehand suddenly began to betray him. Isner dropped serve at 3-2 with three forehand errors and a missed overhead.

“It doesn’t look like he’s that fast out there, but he gets to a lot of balls,” said Isner. “He was making me hit a lot of extra shots and unfortunately, I started missing a few.”

The two players traded service holds throughout the rest of the second set to force a tiebreaker. A missed backhand sent Isner down a mini-break as the Romanian seemed content to guide the ball into the court, forcing Isner into unforced errors.

Hanescu soon found himself serving with triple set point at 6-3. That’s when Isner began to do the unthinkable.

He fought off one set point with an ace, then another with an overhead smash. A forehand error by Hanescu leveled the tiebreaker at 6-6. Isner fought off five more set points in a row, mainly with crushing groundstroke winners that clipped the baseline. Isner reached his first set point at 12-11, but was unable to convert and sent a forehand into the net.

Isner fought off two more set points to level the tiebreaker at 14-14. A poorly executed drop shot by Hanescu allowed the American to rip a backhand up the line, giving him a second set point. At 15-14, a forehand volley winner gave Isner the second set as the crowd gave him a standing ovation.

“I started off a little bit slow and obviously didn’t really want to go a tiebreaker,” said Isner. “I think he had five (set points) on his serve, and each one of his points I played really well. I told myself if I could just get one advantage, I might be able to take it.”

Isner and Hanescu easily held serve throughout the third set, with neither player facing a break point. In the tiebreaker, two consecutive forehand winners by Isner allowed him to go up 2-1. He held on the lead for the rest of the match, converting on his first match point with a forehand winner to advance into the second round, where he will play Marcel Ilhan of Turkey.

Just three months after being diagnosed with mononucleosis and missing Roland Garros and Wimbledon, Isner has been able to achieve semifinal performances this summer at Indianapolis and Washington D.C, as well as a quarterfinal finish at Los Angeles. Isner said he is still working on regaining full fitness, but has been producing the most consistent string of results in his career.

“Missing the whole European swing might have been a blessing in disguise,” said Isner. “I’ve felt fresh ever since I started playing in the States.”

With his ranking currently at a career high of No. 55, Isner said his immediate goal is to reach the top 50 and ultimately, to be talked about as a player well beyond the American swing.

“I want to become a big name in tennis, not just American tennis,” said Isner.