WASHINGTON, April 2, 2018 (by Michael Dickens)
No. 14 seed John Isner scored the biggest win of his professional tennis career Sunday afternoon – and he couldn’t be more proud of his achievement. The 32-year-old American born in Greensboro, North Carolina, won the Miami Open presented by Itaú, his first ATP Masters 1000 singles title, by coming from a set down to defeat No. 4 seed Alexander Zverev of Germany, 6-7 (4), 6-4, 6-4. It was only fitting that the final Miami Open men’s singles championship match played at the Tennis Center at Crandon Park on Key Biscayne was a good one.
A couple of things immediately stood out as the 6-foot-10-inch, big-serving Isner raised his hands in celebration at the conclusion of the 2 hour and 30 minute championship match: He clinched his first title win of 2018 with three straight solid service aces – he served 18 during the championship match – and it was his 53rd straight service hold.
“Ace! Ace! Ace! to finish it and Big John Isner is the last man with the trophy on Key Biscayne,” voiced ESPN2 commentator Chris Fowler after Isner won his biggest career title with his three-set victory over Zverev.
Isner’s service games were as beautiful to watch as they were mechanical. He placed a respectable 69 percent of his first serves into play and won 54 of 66 (82%) of his first-serve points. He backed up his first serve with good second-serve numbers, too, by winning 18 of 30 (60%) opportunities. Plus, Isner saved all three break points he faced – none of them after the second set.
Prior to Sunday’s final, Zverev and Isner previously had faced each other three times, all of them at ATP Masters 1000 events within the last two years. Zverev won all three of those matches, including a third-round thriller at Miami last year in which all three sets were decided by tie-breaks, 6-7 (5), 7-6 (7), 7-6 (5), and the German saved three match points.
En route to the final, Zverev had knocked off No. 17 seed Nick Kyrgios in the round of 16, No. 29 seed Borna Coric in the quarterfinals and No. 16 seed Pablo Carreño Busta in the semifinals. Meanwhile, Isner reached the final by beating No. 2 seed Marin Cilic in the round of 16, No. 19 seed Hyeon Chung in the quarterfinals and No. 5 seed Juan Martín del Potro in the semifinals. Like a year ago when they faced each other at Crandon Park, Sunday’s clash was high on drama and there was little margin for error.
Tied at one set each and on serve at 2-all in the decisive third set, Isner had three break points on his side but Zverev dug deep and got a big hold. Then, at 4-all, Isner took advantage of a huge opportunity to break Zverev. He did for just the second time after Zverev had fought off 10 break points earlier in the match. The German hit a forehand into the net – and Isner had the break he so desperately wanted – and needed – to go ahead for good at 5-4. In the process of being broken, a livid Zverev lost his composure and smashed his racket into the unforgiving hard court surface in front of a packed Stadium court audience. It set up Isner for a big ending and he won the final game of the match at love, which included the aforementioned three service aces – each of them bigger than the previous one.
Shortly after the match while awaiting the trophy presentation, Isner, who now owns a six match winning streak, told ESPN2 sideline reporter Brad Gilbert, “I was the most tired in the whole match at the end of the first set. I caught a second wind,” he said. “I was ready for this moment.”
During the trophy presentation, Zverev paid tribute to his sometimes practice partner, Isner. He said, “I want to thank you for teaching me how to play the game.” Later, Zverev added, “I’m never happy to lose, but if I lose, I’m happy that he won his first Masters 1000.”
When it was his turn on the podium, Isner returned the compliment. He said to Zverev, “You’ve got two of these already, thanks for letting me have one!”
During his post-match press conference, Zverev admitted he missed more shots on Sunday than he did the whole tournament. “I played bad from the baseline. But, it’s not easy against John, because you always feel the pressure that if you get broken you’re not going to win the set,” he said. “That’s maybe a factor, but I had a lot of mistakes today that I didn’t do the whole week.”
Meanwhile, Isner, who overcame an 0-3 win-loss record in ATP Masters 1000 finals before beating Zverev, said: “To win like that in front of a crowd like that, with that atmosphere, you can’t replicate moments like that. It was absolutely amazing. This tournament has so much history. All the best players have played here through the years.”
Indeed, there’s been a who’s-who among Americans, including: Jimmy Connors, Andre Agassi, Jim Courier and Andy Roddick. And, more recently, there’s been the “Big Four” of men’s tennis: Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray.
Isner’s victory capped a remarkable weekend for American tennis players as the Miami Open bade goodbye to the Tennis Center at Crandon Park on Key Biscayne. Just a day earlier, Sloane Stephens won the women’s singles title, and Bob and Mike Bryan won the men’s doubles title. After Isner’s win, CoCo Vandeweghe was part of the winning women’s doubles team.
Now, as the Miami Open moves about 21 miles (33.8 kilometers) north to Hard Rock Stadium, home of the National Football League’s Miami Dolphins, ESPN2’s Fowler signed off at the end of his network’s TV coverage by saying, “So long, forever, from Key Biscayne.”
Indeed, thanks Key Biscayne. It’s been a wonderful 32 years.
Barty and Vandeweghe win women’s doubles title
— Miami Open (@MiamiOpen) 1. April 2018
• At 32-years and 11 months, John Isner is the oldest first-time ATP Masters 1000 titlist. Before Isner, the previous oldest first-time ATP Masters 1000 winner was Ivan Ljubicic, who won the 2010 Indian Wells title at 31 years and 2 days. Isner is also the first American to win the singles title in Miami since Andy Roddick in 2010.
• No. 17 Isner was the lowest-ranked Miami Open winner since No. 18 Jim Courier won at Key Biscayne in 1991. However, thanks to winning the Miami Open, which earned him 1,000 ATP Rankings points to go with $1,340,860 in prize money, Isner will return to his career-high singles ranking of No. 9 when the new Emirates ATP Rankings are released Monday. Isner is also the only player besides Courier in 1991 to win the Indian Wells doubles and Miami singles titles in the same year.
• According to New York Times tennis correspondent Ben Rothenberg, with Isner’s win, European players were shut out in winning any of the 2018 “Sunshine Double” singles titles for the first time since 2001. Back in 2001, Indian Wells was won Andre Agassi and Serena Williams and Miami by Agassi and Venus Williams. In 2018, Indian Wells was won by Juan Martín del Potro and Naomi Osaka and Miami by Sloane Stephens and Isner.
• Stuart Fraser, tennis writer for The Times of London, reminded fans via Twitter after the men’s singles final that Isner’s win means three ATP Masters 1000 titles in a row for “Team World” of the Laver Cup competition. The others were Jack Sock in Paris last November and del Potro made it two in a row for the “rest of the world” when he won Indian Wells last month. Prior to Sock’s Paris triumph, there had been 69 straight European winners of ATP Masters 1000 titles going back to April 2010.
About the author
Michael Dickens is a Washington, D.C.-area freelance journalist who writes and blogs about tennis.