Isner continues ascent with win over Harrison

Alex Smith/BB&T Atlanta Open

John Isner says that he really loves to play at the BB&T Atlanta Open. The 33-year-old has won it five times. While the top players don’t go there, still, there are enough very good competitors to make it a fun stop to kick off the US Open Series.

When Isner is mentally down, he can lose against the top dogs, but when he is into it, he can jump over almost anyone.

Isner defeated Ryan Harrison 5-7 6-3 6-4, a very close match. Both of them – especially Isner – have big serves. But, the real question is who will return well and deep. Fortunately, over the last four months, Isner has returned just a little bit better, which is why he won Miami, and he reached the semis at Wimbledon. He is ranked No. 9 and possibly — and I mean possibly given that it took him so long to reach a Grand Slam semis — he could go very deep at the US Open. First, there are some very important tournaments, such as the ATP 1000s at Toronto and Cincinnati. These 1000s can carve up all but the best. Almost of the top players will be there, except for the great Roger Federer, who won’t play Toronto. His body isn’t ready yet.

Isner is playing again this week, in Washington, but skipping his hometown tourney in Winston-Salem again. The DC is a 64 draw, and they have decided to use 16 seeds. Come on people, how about just 8 seeds, and make it even more exciting, even earlier. The No. 3 Alexander Zverev is the top seed and defending champ.

This is a strong field for a 500 with Andy Murray, Stan Wawrinka, Kei Nishikori, David Goffin, Hyeon Chung and … Nick Kyrgios, who just retired, two days ago in Atlanta.

US Open Series starts for women in California

Over in San Jose, which used to be at Stanford for many years, and it was many fine matches, some incredible ones. This week, both of the Williams sisters  will play, as will top-seeded Garbine Muguruza,  Vika Azarenka, Madison Keys and Elise Mertens, among others.

On Tuesday, Serena Williams has to face Jo Konta, which should be fascinating because both of them will say that they are not playing great this season. Serena returned in March due to the birth of her daughter, and former top-10er Konta has been up and down on court. For the most part, Konta has been shaky. But, if she can focus and not think about why she is overhitting, she can be more effective.

If Azarenka wins today against Kateryna Bondarenko — and that is not an automatic as the veteran is pretty smart — she would play Muguruza on Wednesday night. Both of these two have won two Slams, so while on certain days they get frustrated and lose, still, when they are feeling just fine, they can crush the balls and touch the lines. If they meet, that is.

Look for Isner to take Atlanta again

Here are our predictions for the BB&T Atlanta final.

It’s déjà all over again as John Isner faces Ryan Harrison in the Atlanta final, just like they did 52 weeks ago.

Isner won 7-6(6), 7-6(7) but the score doesn’t reflect the story; the tall American had a stunning 23/1 aces to double faults, while Harrison was only 10/4. Isner also won eight more points, not a huge number but significant in a match with two very close tiebreaks.

Both players needed three sets to take their semis. today While a bit hot, conditions here were quite pleasant compared to some of the scorchers that have plagued players before. That might have contributed to Isner’s occasional discomfort, as he banged a racquet when he dropped the second set to Matthew Ebden, one of a couple of rare outbursts. Harrison floundered in the first set, dropping it 6-2, but then made the most of numerous ill-timed double faults by Cameron Norrie to win in three sets.

While Isner has a better head-to-head record of 7-3, Harrison holds a notable edge on outdoor hard courts, winning three of their four matches. The last hard-court meeting was in Acapulco this year with a straight-set win for Harrison.

What does that mean for tomorrow’s Atlanta final? Not much. Why … because Isner is on a roll. He’s coming off his magnificent achievement of reaching his first Grand Slam semifinal at Wimbledon. He won Miami on hard courts. But, most importantly, this is Atlanta. Isner is not unbeatable here but he’s reached eight of the nine finals in the Georgia capital. He’s got four titles and his focusing on his fifth. We like Isner in two tight sets … just like a year ago. 

Isner, Harrison aiming for Atlanta repeat

Here are our predictions for the BB&T Atlanta Open semifinals:

John Isner vs. Matthew Ebden

It’s nearly impossible to go against Isner in Atlanta. The former Univ. of Georgia Bulldog has waltzed his way to the semis in each of his nine trips to Atlanta and took home four oblong bronze trophies in 2013-2015 and 2017. He’s 3-1 over Australian Ebden, with the only loss coming in this year’s Australian Open first round. So, the Wimbledon semifinalist has something to prove today.

The 30-year-old Ebden has seen his ranking peak earlier this month at No. 43. Besides Isner, he’s taken down Sam Querrey, Gilles Simon and Frances Tiafoe on hard courts this year. He has had a decent record in the Georgia capital.

But, that won’t help him much against the big Isner serve and what amounts to a home crowd. Isner in straight sets.

Ryan Harrison vs. Cameron Norrie

The ever-perplexing Harrison comes into the tournament ranked No. 53, having hit his best ever a year ago at No. 40. Over the past 18 months he has won one tournament – 2017 Memphis – and reached the final last year here in Atlanta and in ’18 Brisbane. Considering this run of success, the fact that he has only produced top results at 250 tournaments has slowed his progress. He has won only three Grand Slam matches this year and went without a victory in Indian Wells and Miami. He’s only 26 but the question remains: Will he ever break into the Top 20?

Norrie may not have Harrison’s pedigree but he is on the way up. A year ago he was No. 275; now he’s at a career high of No. 73. The Brit (but with long-time New Zealand roots) has 2018 wins over Isner and Robin Haase … along with Harrison’s younger brother, Christian. His left-handed game can give Ryan some issues but Harrison has experience here.

Harrison had to dig deep to overcome Hyeon Chung in the quarters. Figure Harrison will have to fight again and we see him winning in three sets.

Isner Stands ‘Tallest’ in Atlanta


John Isner finally wins his third Atlanta final. Photo: Tom Grason/BB&T Atlanta Open

The “Tallest Finals Match in ATP World History” turned out to be one of the best finals so far in 2013 as John Isner and Kevin Anderson went the distance, playing three tiebreaks with Isner eeking out a  6-7 (3), 7-6 (2), 7-6 (2) win in the 2013 BB&T Atlanta Open.

John Isner, at 6’10”, and Kevin Anderson, at 6’8″, combined for the tallest final in ATP World Tour history. They trace their rivalry back to their college days at the University of Georgia and the University of Illinois.  What began as an indoor college match in the fall of 2005 between the Bulldogs and Cavaliers now has blossomed into a fun rivalry on the ATP World Tour. Both players were looking for their first BB&T Atlanta Open title; Isner was a two-time finalist.

“Fun” is a good way to describe what took place on Sunday when these two met in the finals of the BB&T Atlanta Open, an ATP World Tour 250 at Atlantic Station.

Is was no surprise when the first set ended up in a tiebreak with no service breaks and only two break points opportunities (for Anderson). The difference was in the tiebreak — when Isner’s forehand seemed to leave the stadium — Anderson capitalized, and closed out the breaker 7-3.

More of the same in the second set, as there were only three break point chances, two for Anderson and one for Isner. Both players served up nine aces in set two and had a first serve percentage of 63 percent. Even stats like those usually mean another tiebreak and that is just what Atlanta tennis fans got. This time it was the was Isner who put pressure on his opponent to force two straight Anderson errors at 2-2 in the breaker. With a partisan Atlanta crowd and numerous University of Georgia alumni in attendance, Isner caught a second wind to close out the tiebreaker 7-2.

“I knew not much was going to separate us,” said Isner. “In the first set I was a little sluggish, I was missing a lot of forehands and my footwork was pretty bad, but I knew I had a second gear in me.”

Anderson began the deciding tiebreak with an unforced error to fall behind 0-1. Isner then took his two service points before Anderson got on the board. Training 1-3, Anderson committed yet another unforced error while Isner turned up the volume on his serve and getting another backhand unforced error gift from Isner to take the breaker 7-2 and delighting his Atlanta fans.

In total, Isner saved 11 break points and that was the key to the match.

“I never wavered, I believed at love- 40 or whatever, it was that I could hold on,” explained Isner.

Anderson said he didn’t lose focus when he failed to convert on numerous break point opportunities.

“I thought I did well taking care of my own service games,” admitted Anderson. “I had only one break point (against me) in the three sets and gave myself opportunities, but wasn’t able to capitalize.  He just played two better tiebreaks than me.”

With the win, Isner pockets $98,700, 250 ATP World Tour ranking points and 70 Emirates Airline U.S. Open Series points to take the lead in the US Open lead up competition.

In the doubles final, Edouard Roger-Vasselin and Igor Sijsling defeated Colin Fleming and Jonathan Marray 7-6(6), 6-3.

Fun Match Facts

The 2:54 match turns out to be the longest best-of-three sets final on the ATP World Tour in 2013.

This was the first ATP World Tour final with three tie-breaks and no breaks of serve since the 2012 Chennai final between Milos Raonic and Janko Tipsarevic.

Of Isner’s seven career ATP World Tour titles, three have come after saving a match point.

Isner is 8-0 in decisive set tiebreak matches in 2012-13.

Isner’s seven career ATP World Tour singles titles equals the number held by his occasional doubles partner and good friend Sam Querrey. He also passes Mardy Fish who owns six titles.

A ‘Giant’ of a Final in Atlanta


Kevin Anderson looks to keep John Isner from getting an Atlanta title. Photo: Tom Grason/BB&T Atlanta Open

History will be made in Atlanta on Sunday as the tallest ATP Tour final in history will take place when 6’9″ John Isner meets a familiar foe in 6’8″ Kevin Anderson.

Expect big serves, huge forehands and maybe a tiebreaker or two by these two players who first met in the fall of 2005 as college players at the University of Georgia (Isner) and the University of Illinois (Anderson).

In Saturday’s first semifinal, two players that know each well, and played each other in a semifinal match just two weeks ago at Newport, in tournament top seed John Isner and Lleyton Hewitt took to the court under overcast skies in Atlanta at the 2013 BB&T Atlanta Open.

Hewitt led the career head-to-head with Isner 4-1 coming into the match, with that including a win in that Newport encounter. Isner is a two-time finalist at the BB&T Atlanta and always appears confident and enjoys tremendous support when he plays in Atlanta.

The previous two meetings between these two both went three sets and this one was no exception as Isner squeaked out a 6-4, 4-6, 7-6 (5) win and a trip to Sunday’s final.

There was nary a service break to be found until the 10th and final game of the opening set when Isner played perhaps his best service game of the entire tournament to break and secure the set. Isner tallied 10 aces in the first set, served 68% and didn’t face a break point.

The second set looked like more of the same until Hewitt amped up his weaponry and put more returns in play forcing the American to make three straight unforced errors in the fifth game. Isner then broke back to 3-3 before he played more loose points and fell down the break that would ultimately decide the set.

The third set was all about living dangerously as Hewitt faced a break point early on and then Isner fell behind love-40 in the seventh game of the set and faced another break point in the ninth game- saving them all.

As with many Isner matches, this came down to a tiebreaker and with Isner carrying a 23-6 record in tiebreakers into this decider, Isner said he was feeling confident.

“I would prefer not to be (in tiebreakers) like I was in the first set,” admitted Isner. “When the situation comes down to it, I’m not going to shy away from it.”

Isner was also happy with the way he hit his forehand.

“I thought I played very well. I would go for my shots more and my forehand was there today.”

Hewitt, who has not played in an ATP World Tour since Las Vegas in 2007, will now move into the top-60 in the ATP World Tour rankings on Monday morning.

Isner will be seeking his seventh ATP title on Sunday.

An intriguing semifinal between Ryan Harrison and Kevin Anderson was on next. Harrison was looking to continue what has been a great week for the Harrison family in Atlanta and Anderson was looking not only for a title, but a move into the top-20 of the ATP World Tour rankings.

Anderson has been one of the most consistent players on tour this year and that showed in the first set as he waited patiently for his opportunity to break in the eighth game and then closed out the set with his fifth ace of the match.

A well played second set included zero service breaks, so that meant a tiebreaker.  Anderson took control at 3-2 in the breaker with a passing shot and an overhead smash that gave him mini breaks and then the match 6-3, 7-6 (3).

Isner leads the head-to-head with Anderson 5-3, and has taken the last two meetings, but every match but one has featured at least one tiebreaker and last year in Shanghai they played three breakers.  Anderson said that will be in the back of his mind, but he’s mainly focused on what he needs to do.

“I think for tomorrow, it’s important for me to take care of my service games and be patient,” offered up Anderson.

Anderson has taken notice that his, and Isner’s careers have paralleled and criss-crossed each others since their college days, and he’s noticed what John has accomplished.

“I feel since we turned pro at the same time and had been ranked similarly, the top-10 is a place where I can be,” said Anderson.

In doubles semifinal action, the pair of Edouard Roger-Vasselin and Igor Sijsling defeated the Israeli team of Jonathan Erlich and Andy Ram 3-6, 6-1, 10-7 while the British duo of Colin Fleming and Jonathan Marray took down Chris Guccione and Lleyton Hewitt 6-4, 7-6 (6).

ESPN2 will cover the men’s singles final live at 3 p.m. Eastern time.

Hewitt resurgence continues in Atlanta

Lleyton Hewitt’s summer rise up the rankings continued on Friday as he rebounded from losing a 17-minute first set to Ivan Dodig of Croatia and advanced to the semifinals of the BB&T Atlanta Open, a ATP World Tour 250 event.

The 1-6, 6-3, 6-0 win, means another showdown with John Isner on Saturday.  The pair met two weeks ago in the Newport semis with Hewitt winning.

Hewitt attributes his run this summer to his body feeling the best it has in a number of years. “My body is holding up well, it hasn’t been a problem.  Even though it’s hot and humid here, the match was a fairly short three-set match.”

After dropping the first set, the two-time major champion converted on four of five break-point opportunities to win going away.

“At the start of the match, I couldn’t get it into it much,” admitted Hewitt. “But then I just wanted to stay in the games and hold serve. I played a good game at 4-3 to break and then I was able to get some cheap points.”

Another key to the victory for the Australian, Hewitt improved his 43 percent first serve percentage from his previous matches to 57% for the Dodig match.

In the second afternoon semifinal, top seed Isner defeated fellow American James Blake 7-6 (1), 7-6 (5) in 1 hour and 27 minutes, setting up a rematch with Hewitt and a match that many in Atlanta wanted to see once the draw came out.

“Coming to this tournament, it’s my fourth year, I always seem to have incredible support,” offered up Isner, the world No. 22.  “I do have some roots in this vicinity with going to school so close here, and given how many Bulldog alumni live in Atlanta.

The first set featured both players holding serve throughout and not one break point.  Nobody on the ATP World Tour has played more tiebreaks than Isner and he showed why his is so comfortable in breakers by being dominant on serve and then taking chances on the serve return. When he connects on serve returns in a tiebreak –where every point matters — Isner is just about unbeatable.

Blake jumped out to a quick break in the second set and looked in command until he played a sloppy service game at 4-2. As with any Isner match, it always comes down to a crucial point or two, and a tiebreak.

“His serve doesn’t give you any rhythm,” said Blake. “It comes down to a couple points every time I play him, and I didn’t play those well.”

Isner/Hewitt match-up

Isner with a 1-4 career mark against Hewitt said he’s looking forward to playing Hewitt, but he needs to serve well.

“His return of serve is incredible,” said Isner after the match. “He gets his racquet on the ball and he competes.”

Although his younger brother, Christian, has received most of the attention this week, Ryan Harrison was looking to garner some of his own as he took on Santiago Giraldo of Colombia in the first quarterfinal of the evening session.

Playing inspired tennis, Harrison scored the only break of the opening set and with that break in hand, the American leaned on his serve to close out a 6-3 first set.

The Colombian raised his level of play to start the second and Harrison threw in a sloppy service game early in the set to fall behind.  Harrison wouldn’t see a breakpoint in set two and one ball felt the wrath of the Louisiana native and landed out on the I75/I85 downtown connector in Atlanta, while Giraldo closed out the set 6-3.

Giraldo again jumped out on top in the deciding set, and Harrison squandered break points in games three and five.  A tiring Giraldo ended up giving back the break mid-set and with no further breaks, Harrison was dominant in the tiebreak, taking it 7-2, and the match 6-3, 3-6, 7-6(2).

All in all, Harrison was pleased with the effort and is happy to be making another final four appearance in Atlanta.

“I played well, other than that service game at 3-4 when I missed a couple balls, I guess I got broken,” explained Harrison. “The only dip I had, those three or four games and them when I broke in the third set. Other than that, I feel great.”

Next up for Harrison, a matchup with tournament No. 2 seed Kevin Anderson.  Anderson won a tight three-setter against Denis Istomin on Saturday night 6-3, 3-6, 6-3.

Even though Harrsion gives away six years, eight inches, and over 100 ranking spots to the South African, they both turned pro in 2007, and are both playing some of their best tennis of the year in Atlanta.

Amazingly enough, these two have never met in an ATP, Challenger, Futures or qualifying tournament.

The 4 p.m. match on Saturday featuring Hewitt and Isner will air on ESPN2 and the Anderson vs. Harrison semi will run at 8 p.m. on Tennis Channel.

Isner Delights Atlanta Fans With Hard Fought Victory over Christian Harrison

Only 17 years old, Christian Harrison went toe-to-toe with Isner. Photo: Bill Kallenberg/BB&T Atlanta Open

Only 17 years old, Christian Harrison went toe-to-toe with Isner. Photo: Bill Kallenberg/BB&T Atlanta Open

John Isner needs no introduction to the tennis fans of Atlanta.

Not only is he a two-time finalist at the BB&T Atlanta Open, a former college star at the University of Georgia and the top seed this week in Atlanta, he’s been the star attraction at numerous clinics this week in Atlanta including the Emirates Airline “Emirates Returns” Kid’s Day Clinic held on Wednesday at Atlantic Station’s Central Park.

When Isner took the court on Thursday night, many thought Isner would cruise past 19-year old Christian Harrison with ease.  They were wrong, as Isner always seems to give the Atlanta crowds their money’s worth.

Isner needed 2 hours and 24 minutes and 29 aces to take out Harrison who was playing in his first ATP World Tour main draw 7-6 (9), 4-6, 7-5 in front of an almost full stadium.

In Isner’s Wednesday pre-tournament press conference, he commented that sometimes the first match he plays in a tournament is the toughest.

“It’s the fourth time the tournament has been here, and I’ve always had a bye and played a guy that had won a match,” explains Isner. “For me first matches at every tournament I play are tough.”

The former University of Georgia All-American and Harrison appeared to be on course for a third set tiebreaker until Isner eeked out a break in the 11th game of the third set by putting his service returns in play.

“I tried to be aggressive, I was struggling out there and had a hard time controlling the ball, so I’m really happy with the win.”

Another American moving through the draw and Christian’s brother, Ryan Harrison posted an upset win over Igor Sijsling of The Netherlands 6-4, 6-3.  Ryan Harrison is not longer being be Tres Davis and is working with the USTA’s Jay Berger. It’s been a rough season for Ryan as he has sen his ranking fall to No. 132 but if he can grab another win or two here he might begin to turn his year around.

For the Harrison’s, it’s been a great family week.

“This has been the first time we are advancing in an (ATP) main draw,” stated Harrison.  “My mom and dad are actually both here, I had a good friend of mine here, and Christian has friends here, so it’s been fun.”

Also posting wins a on Thursday was American James Blake who is hoping to keep turning back the clock.  Blake disposed a tough Russian in Evgeny Donskoy.

“I always feel like the hard court summer is a chance to play my best tennis, and when it’s hot I play pretty well,” explained Blake, who will next face his good friend Isner.

Other players advancing to quarterfinal play with Thursday wins include Denis Istomin of Uzbekistan, Santiago Giraldo of Colombia and tournament second seed Kevin Anderson of South Africa.

Friday, Saturday, and Sunday play will air on ESPN2 and Tennis Channel.