By Ron Cioffi / BB&T Atlanta Open
Only one tiebreak in a John Isner match seems like an anomaly. But, when it came, the former Georgia Bulldog found his big serve and a sweet touch at the net.
Isner moved into his third final in four years at the BB&T Atlanta Open by getting revenge for a recent loss to Lleyton Hewitt on grass and coming with a 6-4, 4-6, 7-5(5) victory.
Hewitt dug out from a 3-0 hole in the third-set tiebreak to even the score at 4-all. But, Isner snapped in an ace and an important backhand volley winner to set up a match point. Then, a 139-mph service winner moved the American into his second final of the year.
The No. 1 seed in Atlanta, Isner won’t have to contend with Mardy Fish, who beat him in two three-set finals in 2010 and 2011. Fish lost in his first round match to Michael Russell, putting a damper on his comeback from heart issues. Fish has only played three ATP World Tour matches since last year’s US Open.
With 10 aces in the first set Isner was in complete control of his service games. He had Hewitt on the ropes with three break points in the fifth game, but the Australian escaped with an ace on the fifth deuce. Facing set point, Hewitt saw Isner approach the net and hit a backhand that he couldn’t handle. No need for a tiebreak.
The invincible Isner serve waivered throughout the second set as he racked up only four aces. While he was able to break Hewitt once, the Australian broke him twice. Hewitt slammed a bullet passing shot for the first break. At deuce in the seventh game, Isner approached the net and limply dropped a forehand volley into the net. On the next point, he made the same mistake, giving Hewitt his second service break.
The match was back on track in the third set, with no breaks and the tiebreak looming. Starting in the previous set, Isner went five straight games without an ace, even though he’d tally 21 overall.
"I know Lleyton is going to keep making balls," the American said. "He’s a fantastic returner. … like Novak Djokovic. He anticipates so well. He’s one of those guys who stand on the baseline and just absorbs 140-mph serves from me. If I didn’t hit my spot exactly, it’s coming back."
With a 23-6 tiebreak record coming into the match– the best on the tour this year – Isner was in for a different route to the third set. He started finding his range on his serves and was more aggressive on his shots.
In the tiebreak, Hewitt had to content with losing a 14-shot rally and an ace. Isner had two service winners, one of which came on match point.
"I don’t mind being in a tiebreak but I would rather not be in a tiebreak. I’m not going to shy away from it. I got up two minibreaks," which helped him get off to a good start, Isner said. "I’ve got no hesitation coming to the net a guy like him. He is not going to make mistakes. I was a little bit tired and the last thing I wanted to do was lose. So, I came to the net and I finished."
Second-seeded Kevin Anderson will fill the other slot in Sunday’s final.
Interestingly, Isner didn’t cite his 5-3 tour match record or his 2010 semifinal win over Anderson when asked about a possible final match-up. "One of my biggest wins was against him in the (2007) NCAA team finals when he was playing for Illinois. We were both playing at No. 1 and I beat him."
Hewitt will play the semifinal doubles match with fellow countryman Chris Guccione in the night session. They will take on Colin Fleming and Jonathan Marray.