WASHINGTON, March 31, 2018 (by Michael Dickens)
John Isner advanced to his first ATP World Tour final of the year by doing what he does best – hitting aces and holding his service. Against Juan Martín del Potro, the No. 14 seed Isner fired 13 aces and won 44 of 55 point opportunities on his serve, including 29 of 35 first-serve points. He ended the No. 5 Argentine’s 15-match winning streak on Friday in the first Miami Open presented by Itaú men’s semifinal at the Crandon Tennis Center.
The 32-year-old Isner, who just might be playing the best tennis of his professional career, beat del Potro, 6-1, 7-6 (2), which included a beautifully-executed backhanded drop volley on match point. He succeeded with strength and dominance, swinging with a sense of freedom. The last time del Potro lost was over a month ago and he was going after his third straight title of the year after winning at Acapulco and Indian Wells.
“John deserved to win today,” del Potro told ATP World Tour.com. “He served unbelievable. He played great tennis on the tie-break. He was too good for me.”
After his win, Isner explained his success this week in Miami during his post-match meeting with the media. He said: “Things are just clicking. Look, if I’m returning well and getting in return games, that should bode well for me, given how I serve. I’m very happy it’s sort of coming together right now. I just know with my game, if I’m doing the right things, it doesn’t really matter who I’m playing. I’m going to be very tough to beat.”
In the second men’s semifinal, No. 4 seed Alexander Zverev defeated No. 16 Pablo Carreno Busta, 7-6 (4), 6-2, to improve to 3-0 in ATP Masters 1000 semifinals. It was arguably the 20-year-old Zverev’s best showing of the season. He dominated with 10 service aces, won 35 of 40 (88%) first-serve points and hit 30 winners. He lost just 13 points on his serve, faced no break points, and outpointed Carreno Busta, 71-54, during the 1 hour and 28 minute match.
On Sunday, Zverev will try to add his third Masters 1000 title and first since winning Montreal last summer when he faces Isner. It’s the first final of the season for the German wunderkind.
In setting up the men’s final, Zverev owns a 3-0 career head-to-head win-loss record against Isner, including in the 2017 Miami Open third round when he saved three match points en route to victory. Meanwhile, Isner hopes to become the first American since Andy Roddick at the 2010 Miami Open to win an ATP Masters 1000 or Grand Slam title in the United States. Additionally, Isner hopes to complete his own version of the “Sunshine Double” and become the second player to follow an Indian Wells doubles title with a Miami Open singles title. The last time it was done was by Jim Courier in 1991.
Reigning Grand Slam champions face off
World No. 5 Jelena Ostapenko and No. 12 Sloane Stephens, who will meet for the first time when they play for the women’s singles title in the Miami Open on Saturday, are the reigning champions in two of the four Grand Slams. Last year, Ostapenko won Roland Garros for her first major and Stephens was crowned champion of the U.S. Open in the fall. Each is playing in their first WTA Tour final of the year. It promises to be a blockbuster of a match.
On Thursday, Stephens, 25, rebounded against former No. 1 Victoria Azarenka for a 3-6, 6-2, 6-1 victory, which advanced her into the championship round. The win ensured Stephens will make her debut in the Top 10 when the WTA rankings are updated next Monday. During her post-match press conference that followed her triumph, Stephens called getting a win over Azarenka “incredible.” She said: “I knew I was going to have to fight and do a whole bunch of stuff today. I think I did that pretty well. When it wasn’t going my way, I just made sure I kept my head up and I kept playing.”
Meanwhile, Ostapenko, 20, who is the youngest finalist at the Miami Open since Azarenka won the title in 2009, advanced to the second-biggest final of her career Thursday night when she beat Danielle Collins, 7-6 (1), 6-3. It ended the American upstart’s memorable run at Miami in which Collins beat two Top 20 players, No. 8 Venus Williams and No. 16 CoCo Vandeweghe.
Following the match, BBC5 Live tennis commentator David Law tweeted: “Jelena Ostapenko with one of the most mature performances I’ve seen from her. Withstood the Collins set-point and played tactically superb tennis. Zoned in on Collins’ forehand. Broke it down.”
Looking ahead, Ostapenko hasn’t lost a set or tiebreak in her five matches. She was asked by the WTA Insider after her win over Collins why it’s all coming together for her in Miami. She said: “I think I’m calmer, and also mentally I’m stronger now. Yeah, just more consistent and more confident and just going for shots sometimes and not afraid to miss it.”
Bryans seek fifth Miami Open title
Mike and Bob Bryan are one month shy of their 40th birthday, and they’ve reached their 172nd doubles final at the Miami Open. The No. 4 seed Bryan brothers will seek their fifth Miami Open title on Saturday against the Russian duo of Karen Khachanov and Andrey Rublev, who are appearing in their 10th match as a team and first final. Meanwhile, the Bryans own a record 1,057 wins and 114 titles as a team.
Women’s doubles final set
Ash Barty of Australia and CoCo Vandeweghe of the United States upset the No. 1 seeded Russian team of Ekaterina Makarova and Elena Vesnina, 3-6, 6-2, 10-7, to advance to Sunday’s women’s doubles title match. They will face the No. 6 seeded team of Barbara Krejcikova and Katerina Siniakova of the Czech Republic, which beat Elise Mertens of Belgium and Demi Schuurs of the Netherlands, 4-6, 6-3, 11-9.
About the author
Michael Dickens is a Washington, D.C.-area freelance journalist who writes and blogs about tennis.