The first men’s semi-final at the Western and Southern Open will pit the home favourite against one of the foremost US Open contenders.
John Isner earned a spot in the last four in Cincinnati thanks to his best win of the year so far. On Friday, he defeated world number one Novak Djokovic 7-6(5), 3-6, 7-5, holding his nerve impressively in a gruelling two hour, 23 minute battle. The American was predictably strong on serve – he hit nine aces, countless unreturnables and won 80% of his first serve points – but he also returned well enough to keep Djokovic under pressure throughout.
The Serb was forced to spend a lot of energy saving nine of ten break points, and he looked mentally fatigued in the closing stages. Isner broke in the 12th game of the deciding set to record his second win over the six-time Grand Slam champion and, in the process, ensure that there would once again be an American in the ATP top 20.
Earlier in the day, Juan Martin Del Potro overcame another second set lapse to beat qualifier Dmitry Tursunov 6-4, 3-6, 6-1. The 2009 US Open champion, who was pushed to the limit by Feliciano Lopez on Thursday, dominated on serve in the early stages, but he double faulted to give Tursunov a break point in the second, and handed his opponent the game by hitting a drive volley into the net. Del Potro’s first serve percentage dipped to 48% in the decider, but he stepped up a gear on the return and eventually won it comfortably.
After his triumph over Djokovic, Isner was asked about his tactics against Del Potro, and if he will adjust his game plan to test the Argentine’s suspect wrist.
“I’m not good enough to do that. It’s not rocket science what I do,” he joked.
Instead, Isner will focus on blasting as many aces as he can and moving forward when a weak Del Potro return opens up the court. He’ll also try to go for winners on his forehand, a ploy that worked well against Djokovic. For his part, Del Potro will aim to be patient during Isner’s service games and unleash his own colossal forehand at the right moments. Del Potro has won all four of the pair’s previous meetings, including the Washington final a few weeks ago. So far, he’s had too much power and too much variety for the USA’s top player.
One wonders if fatigue will become a factor in this semi-final: as well as edging Djokovic in an emotionally exhausting marathon, Isner is playing for the fourth consecutive week; Del Potro, whose fitness is sometimes questionable, is competing for the third week in a row. But Isner will have the full support of the crowd as he attempts to pull off another high-profile upset, and he is playing with more confidence that at any point during an injury-plagued season. The time is ripe for him to stare down the big man in a tense three-setter and reach the second Masters final of his career.