NEW YORK, September 3, 2018 (by Michael Dickens)
John Isner is no stranger to playing five set matches in Grand Slams. He’ll forever be remembered for his epic 2010 Wimbledon first-round match against Nicolas Mahut of France that lasted more than 11 hours, which Isner won 70-68 in the fifth set. Earlier this year, he played in the second longest Wimbledon match of all time that his semifinal opponent, Kevin Anderson, pulled out 26-24 in the fifth set. Fortunately for Isner, fifth sets are decided by tie-breaks at the U.S. Open.
Seeded 11th, Isner and No. 25 seed Milos Raonic of Canada put on quite a show for the Louis Armstrong Stadium crowd Sunday afternoon that surprisingly didn’t require any tie-breaks, but did go the five-set distance. It was won by Isner, the last American man left in the draw, 3-6, 6-3, 6-4, 3-6, 6-2, in three hours and nine minutes. Thus far, Isner has played two five-set matches in this year’s U.S. Open.
The 33-year-old Isner is back in the U.S. Open quarterfinals for the first time since 2011 thanks to his inspiring performance against Raonic. The 6-foot-5 Canadian double-faulted to fall behind 0-2 at the start of the fifth set after he took a medical timeout to relieve pain in his hip. Isner maintained the advantage and closed out the match with a service break. He’s now beaten Raonic in five of their six career meetings.
The 6-foot-10 Isner fired 20 service aces – he now has 112 for the tournament – won 86 percent of his first-point opportunities, hit 56 winners and broke Raonic four times. He also controlled the net by winning 29 of 36 points. Isner outpointed Raonic 124-117.
“The most important thing is I just stayed positive,” said Isner, who is an expectant father for the first time. His wife is due to give birth to a baby girl later this month back home in North Carolina. “The crowd just kept me in it. The atmosphere is like a jungle. It was amazing.”
Isner will face No. 3 Juan Martín del Potro of Argentina, who reached his sixth U.S. Open quarterfinal by defeating No. 20 seed Borna Coric of Croatia, 6-4, 6-3, 6-1, in just two hours and four minutes Sunday night on Arthur Ashe Stadium.
The 2009 U.S. Open champion won 44 of 55 (80 percent) first-serve points, which included nine aces, and hit 33 winners. Del Potro improved his career win-loss record at the U.S. Open to 33-8.
Del Potro was asked by ESPN’s Brad Gilbert during his on-court interview after beating Coric what he expects from Isner in the next round. He said, “John is a friend of mine. He has a big serve and will be a tough opponent. With this crowd, though, everything is possible.”
Sevastova, Stephens reach quarterfinals
Anastasija Sevastova of Latvia advanced to the U.S. Open quarterfinals for the third straight year with a convincing 6-3, 1-6, 6-0 victory over No. 7 seed Elina Svitolina of Ukraine during the afternoon session. The No. 19 seed needed just 81 minutes on the Grandstand court to secure her berth in the final eight. Her next opponent will be defending U.S. Open champion Sloane Stephens of the United States, who dominated No. 15 seed Elise Mertens of Belgium, 6-3, 6-3, Sunday night on Arthur Ashe Stadium.
Asked why she won, Sevastova, who outpointed Svitolina 71-54, answered, “I don’t know how. There’s a pattern maybe, because some tournaments I always play good. Like Mallorca, I played the final three years. Maybe, I believe that I can play good here year-to-year.” She recalled during her press conference the first year she played in the U.S. Open and beat Garbiñe Muguruza in a night match as being a confidence booster for her.
Sevastova’s all-court game contributed to her hitting 30 winners while causing Svitolina to commit 28 unforced errors.
Meanwhile, the No. 3 seed Stephens avenged a loss to Mertens two weeks ago at the Western & Southern Open in Cincinnati, a U.S. Open hard-court tune-up. She capped her win Sunday night by hitting a forehand winner on match point.
“That was pretty good, huh?” said Stephens at the conclusion of her one hour and 26 minute, fourth-round victory. “I played this whole match from start to finish, so I can’t ask for much more.”
Mertens came into the U.S. Open having won three WTA titles earlier this year while reaching No. 14 in the world rankings. She had dropped only one set in her first three matches. Mertens remains alive in the doubles with Demi Schumers of the Netherlands. The seventh-seeded pair will oppose Aryna Sabalenka of Belarus and Su-Wei Hsieh of Taiwan in the third round on Monday afternoon.
During her on-court interview with ESPN’s Pam Shriver after her victory, Stephens said she knew she had to play a solid match to win. “I’m happy with the outcome.”
Stephens is the highest remaining seed in the women’s draw following the surprising first-round loss by No. 1 Simona Halep of Romania last Monday that was followed up by the upset of No. 2 Caroline Wozniacki of Denmark in the second round on Thursday. The only other Top 10 seed left in the draw is No. 8 Karolina Pliskova of the Czech Republic, who will face No. 17 seed Serena Williams in the quarterfinal round on Tuesday.
• When he beat 2017 U.S. Open finalist Kevin Anderson of South Africa, No. 9 seed Dominic Thiem became the first Austrian to reach the quarterfinals since Thomas Muster in 1996. Thiem never faced a break point and hit 42 winners during his 7-5, 6-2, 7-5 win over the No. 5 seed Anderson. Thiem will face defending champion Rafael Nadal in Tuesday’s quarterfinal round in their first hard-court head-to-head. Nadal leads their career rivalry 7-3 (all on clay).
“I’m really looking forward … to play him on hard court for the first time,” said Thiem looking ahead to his matchup with Nadal. “On clay, I think it’s one of the biggest challenges in sports to beat this guy or to compete with this guy. I hope that it’s a little bit more comfortable on hard court.”
• When Croatia’s Marin Cilic rallied to beat #NextGenATP teenager Alex de Minaur of Australia in five sets, winning their three hour, 59 minute slugfest on his eighth match point at 2:22 a.m. Sunday, it was the fourth latest finish in U.S. Open history. Cilic improved to 29-14 in five-set matches with his sixth career win coming from a two-set deficit.
“The atmosphere was very, very intense. Everyone was on their feet at 2 a.m.,” said Cilic afterward.
De Minaur said, “Every time I step out on court, I tell myself that I’m going to play until the last point. He was going to have to beat me. Eventually, that’s what he did.”
• Through the end of the first week of the U.S. Open, the longest men’s match of tournament has been a four hour and 43 minutes third-round battle between Rafael Nadal and Karen Khachanov, won by Nadal. On the women’s side, the longest match has been the second-round encounter between Dominika Cibulkova and Sui-Wei Hsieh, won by Cibulkova in three hours and 19 minutes.
What they’re saying
• On Sunday morning’s “Tennis Channel Live at the U.S. Open,” Sports Illustrated executive editor Jon Wertheim praised unseeded Philipp Kohlschreiber of Germany for his win over No. 4 seed and fellow German Alexander Zverev on Saturday. He said: “Anyone who follows this sport knows the name and knows about his game. Yesterday, we saw power, we saw variety. That’s a great win for him, but it’s not the first one. This is a guy who’s been getting it done for a decade. It’s nice to see a guy like him advance.”
• More Kohlschreiber from Tennis Channel presenter Brett Haber: “If you follow tennis with any degree of regularity, you know who Kohlschreiber is. He’s been 11 straight years of finishing (ranked) in between No. 20 and No. 50, and 11 straight years of winning at least 30 matches. Only three other players have longer active streaks with 30-plus wins. That’s Rafa (Nadal), (Tomas) Berdych, and (Novak) Djokovic. This guy is good and tennis fans know this well.”
• During a recent interview with Marc Stein of The New York Times, 2014 U.S. Open champion Marin Cilic was asked to describe what it’s like walking through the gates at the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center, knowing he’s won the tournament: “It feels really natural. I feel probably the most belief and confidence here, just in terms of preparing for a tournament, knowing what I need to do. Even after my first practice here, still my mind is going in reverse to four years ago, how I prepared for that.”
• No. 29 seed Dominika Cibulkova of Slovakia, who faces No. 14 seed Madison Keys of the United States in Monday’s fourth round, was asked about her forceful attacking style after she beat No. 4 seed Angelique Kerber of Germany on Saturday: “My hard work is paying off. I’m happy to show it on my best tennis on the biggest stage in the world.”
• Maria Sharapova, the 2006 U.S. Open champion, improved to 22-0 in night matches at the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center with a third-round victory on Saturday. The Russian said, “I think I thrive on that. I love the atmosphere. I love that they know how to cheer hard. I thrive on playing under the lights for some reason. I love that. I love that challenge.”
• Australia’s Nick Kyrgios on what he admires about No. 2 seed and five-time U.S. Open champion Roger Federer: “Just the way he goes about things – I could take a leaf out of his book. The way he behaves on court, his demeanor, I could definitely take away. I don’t want to change myself too much, but I could definitely take away things he does in certain situations. He’s the ultimate role model to anyone who wants to play.”
• The Swiss maestro Federer, on whether he’s superstitious: “On the court itself, I have no superstitions, to be honest. I don’t mind stepping on lines.”
• Speaking of superstitions, Keys said her superstition is to not have set things. “I never wake up at the same time. I just try to make things random, because then I’m not stuck in something – which doesn’t make any sense. But that’s pretty much all I do.”