Rafa Nadal vs. John Isner, Round of 16, Rome, May 14
Remember way back when in 2011 when Isner was still rising and in the first round against Nadal, they faced off at Roland Garros and nearly stunned him, but the Spaniard overcame the American 6-4, 6-7(2), 6-7(2), 6-2, 6-4. Nadal made a deep breath and went on to win the tournament.
Isner lost, but he was pleased overall because he showed the world that on clay, he had potential. Since then, the now 30-year-old Isner has had some good wins on clay, most notable against Roger Federer at Davis Cup, wiping the Swiss. Last year in Paris he upset Tommy Robredo in the third round in four sets before losing to Tomas Berdych.
He hasn’t gone deep at the biggest clay tournaments and he has had a couple brutal losses. In 2012 in the first round at Roland Garros, he fell to Paul-Henri Mathieu 18-16 in the fifth set. He was so exhausted that he could barely walk. The next year in 2013 he was right there against Tommy Robredo, but he couldn’t grasp it and lost 10-8 in the fifth. He was disgusted.
But even though he can get down on himself, he will keep trying. This year, he started slow but after kicking himself after losing against Great Britain at the Davis Cup, by March he was moving faster and he was more composed. He looked pretty good at Indian Wells and Miami and with the exception of Houston, he was been fairly consistent on the clay, beating Steve Johnson and Victor Troicki in Monte Carlo before going down to Nadal. In Madrid, he won three matches, including beating the rising Nick Kyrgios before losing to Tomas Berdych.
Here in Italy, he has already won two matches, besting Leonardo Mayer 7-6 (6) 6-4 on Wednesday. While Nadal is 5-0 against him, Isner has hung around, such as in Monte Carlo last month, which was fairly close.
But can Isner actually beat him? Yes he has a real shot but he must play as well as he can and somehow, someway, when he is returning, he has to attack the second servers extremely deep or on the lines. He knows that Nadal can dig out everything and if he is on and he is feeling good he will dare his foes, running as fast as he can and retrieve massive shots in the corners. He can be super-steady and chase down anything, That is very difficult for Isner but he can boom aces and easily hold him.
Coming into this week, Isner’s service games won are at 96%, which is fantastic, but on the other side at the return games won, it’s 9%. Ouch.
As long as the points go on and on and Nadal will be quiet pleased. Nadal can torch Isner’s backhands and pulls him way out wide. The American has a gigantic forehand and is confident enough to dance to his left wide and dictate with his forehand. However, if he isn’t nailing it and Nadal is in control, he will change up his shots and frustrate him.
Nadal did not look great at all in losing in the final of Madrid against Andy Murray. However, he says that last week, overall he played better and he has been more mentally confident at anytime this season. If that’s the case, then he is ready to charge at the final at Rome again. Isner will bring Nadal deep into the third set, but in the end, the Spaniard will come through and grab it in the final tiebreak.