Isner Advances By Slimmest Of Margins In Miami

John Isner (photo: courtesy ATP video)

MIAMI/WASHINGTON, March 28, 2021 (by Michael Dickens)

The Miami Open presented by Itaú has always been a tournament that American John Isner has excelled in. Regardless of the venue, first at Crandon Park, where Isner won the 2018 title in the tournament’s final year on Key Biscayne, or now at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens, Isner is always one who’s in the thick of the chase in south Florida. Miami’s like a second home for the Greensboro, N.C. native, who now resides in Dallas.

On Sunday afternoon, by the slimmest of margins, the 18th seed Isner eked out a 7-6 (5), 7-6 (5) victory over No. 11 seed Felix Auger-Aliassime to move into the fourth round against No. 7 seed Roberto Bautista Agut of Spain. Bautista Agut took out Jan-Lennard Struff of Germany, 4-6, 6-3, 6-2.

The triumph improved Isner’s lifetime record at the Miami Open to 26-18. During the length of the of the one hour and 49-minute third-round Grandstand match, there were no breaks of serve and the very first deuce point of the match didn’t occur until on Isner’s serve in the eighth game of the second set. Match point was indicative of the spirited, back-and-forth rallies between these two hard-hitting right-handers. On Auger-Aliassime’s serve, the match finally ended at 13 shots when the Canadian hit a long return.

In the end, Isner fired 16 aces and hit 26 winners to overcome his 29 unforced errors. Auger-Aliassime finished with 11 aces and 22 winners and committed 17 unforced errors. Just three points separated the two competitors, with Isner ahead in the final tally 77-74. Fifty-nine of Isner’s points came on his serve.

“I knew it was going to be tough,” Isner told Tennis TourTalk. “[Felix] is such an incredible player. These conditions are good for me. I knew at the worst, it would be a close match that could come down to a few points here and there. That was the case today.

“Certainly, there are some things I wished I had done better, but all in all, I’m happy to win the match and move on.”

From Auger-Aliassime’s point of view, the World No. 18 said that both he and Isner were serving well. “You know, I mean, 6 and 6 I guess is a pretty common score against John. Yeah, I think I was able to protect my serve well. Didn’t face a breakpoint, so that was good on my part.

“I think I could have adjusted a few things, looking back on the return, to try to find a way to, I don’t know, even bunt a few returns in the court to make him play.

“But again, I was trying my best. You know, in the tiebreaks it’s just few points here and there. I played poor points at the start of both tiebreaks, and then it just – yeah, it just, I guess, slipped out of my hands, really. It was a close one.”

Pegula beats Pliskova for third time in 2021

American Jessica Pegula beat World No. 6 Karolina Pliskova for the third time in three 2021 tournaments. Beginning in Qatar (6-3, 6-1), continuing in Dubai (6-0, 6-2), and now in Miami, it’s been all Pegula this month against the Czech star. The Buffalo, N.Y.-native Pegula’s breakout season just keeps improving.

This time, the No. 29 seed Pegula faced dire circumstances against the sixth seed Pliskova in the third set, down 2-4. However, she came back to win 6-1, 4-6, 6-4, which advanced her to the fourth round against No. 23 seed Maria Sakkari. The rising Greek star ended the run of Russian qualifier Liudmila Samsonova, 6-0, 6-1.

Pegula pounded 43 winners, including five aces, and kept her unforced errors to just 20. She broke Pliskova’s serve six times in 13 opportunities while the Czech was able to convert just three of 19 tries. Pegula outpointed Pliskova 105-91.

With Pegula’s early-season success on hard courts, which includes a quarterfinal run at the Australian Open, a semifinal finish at Doha and reaching the quarterfinals in Dubai, she’ll break into the Top 30 soon. This bodes well for Pegula’s future Grand Slams.

During her virtual press conference, Pegula described for Tennis TourTalk the challenge of beating the same opponent three straight times.

“It was definitely a different feeling, you know, beating her this time. It was tougher,” Pegula said. “She played better. I think too it’s just — you know, maybe I was not expected to win but, you know, I beat her the last two times. It’s, like, ‘Okay, can you do it again?’

“Definitely maybe a different kind of pressure that way, but I knew kind of what I had to do and how to play. I played really well I thought up to a set and 4-1, and then I thought she definitely picked up her game. Maybe I missed a few first serves and she took her chances when she had it even from 4-1 down and she was fighting.

“So, definitely different than the last few matches we played, and I expected that, because obviously she’s a top player and a lot of experience, done very well.

“Again, just happy to kind of get through that in the third set mentally and be able to step up my game when I needed to.”

Around the Hard Rock Stadium

Serbian qualifier Nina Stojanovic withdrew prior to her third-round match against No. 2 seed Naomi Osaka due to a right injury. The World No. 2 Osaka received a walkover into the fourth round and will face No. 16 seed Elise Mertens of Belgium, who rallied in the third set to beat No. 22 seed Anett Kontaveit of Estonia, 6-2, 0-6, 6-2, in one hour and 47 minutes.

“I’m sorry I can‘t continue my participation at the Miami Open due to my recent injury during my singles match,” Stojanovic said in a statement, tweeted by the WTA Insider.

Sunday’s Miami Open results – WTA

Sunday’s Miami Open results – ATP

Monday’s Miami Open order of play

Sierzputowksi: Consistency led to Swiatek’s Roland Garros title

During a Friday afternoon virtual interview with Piotr Sierzputowski, the 2020 WTA Coach of the Year and mentor to Iga Swiatek, Tennis TourTalk asked him if he was surprised by the championship run that culminated in Swiatek’s winning her first Grand Slam title at Roland Garros last fall.

The 28-year-old Sierzputowski enthusiastically replied: “You know, I was surprised maybe not with how did she play but how consistent she was, like every match. Because before Roland Garros she didn’t felt good, she didn’t feel confident. [Iga] was like struggling a little bit with the game, especially after the Rome first-round loss (to Arantxa Rus in straight sets) which, like, clay is her favorite surface. I don’t think like she’s, you know, like better on the clay, but she thinks that way. So always when players think and she’s confident about it, it’s much better.

“So, it was really difficult for us. She was a little bit struggling. Before the tournament, we set our goals like we are going just to have fun.

“It was something which surprised me that she was able to relax even at that point when she knew that she’s already a favorite. Not like underdog going for big match with some big players, but she was the player who was in charge.

“So, yeah, that was pretty exciting for me and pretty surprising, because I didn’t expect that she can handle these emotions so well and so good and be so consistent for 13 days in a row, because she played doubles.

“Even I saw some, let’s say, movement going down, up-and-downs, but of course I was surprised.”

What they’re telling Tennis TourTalk

• Women’s No. 9 seed Petra Kvitova, who on Saturday was last scheduled to play on the Grandstand court, had to wait out a rain delay that held up the start of her match by about an hour. How did she handle and adapt to the inconvenience? “Well, of course I wasn’t really happy with it,” she told Tennis TourTalk during her post-match virtual media chat that followed her 6-1, 6-2 victory over No. 17 seed Johanna Konta of Great Britain.

“Yeah, we were talking with my team that, you know, it’s happened three times in a row for me here in Miami: in the night session with Ostapenko and two years ago against Ash, as well, with the rain delay. So, third time lucky. That’s how we called it. Yeah, of course, you know, you are prepared for a certain time, and the match ahead of us played pretty quickly. So, we have been normally under time but unfortunately, we had to wait for an hour. But it’s okay. I had a quick nap, as well. All good.”

• Men’s No. 18 seed John Isner was asked by Tennis TourTalk how he adapted to the scorching south Florida heat during his match against Felix Auger-Aliassime. “It’s pretty hot, but I’ve played in hotter Miami conditions before. I like playing during the day, first up. I would say most players don’t like playing first up at 11 a.m., but I like it. I’m up early anyway. You know your fate early and I’ll be back at the hotel soon and can enjoy the rest of the day.”

• Men’s No. 11 seed Felix Auger-Aliassime was asked by Tennis TourTalk to describe what it’s like being on the receiving end of a blistering John Isner serve, which often travels more than 100 miles-per-hour. On Sunday, Isner placed 76 percent of his first serves in place and hit 16 aces.

“Well, we get used to the speed, but it’s the precision and consistency of it. You know, when you get a guy like this, you know, people have to understand the focus that it requires, you know, to be like this for, what is it, 26 games. Because you have to be focused on your serve too, because you know as soon as you get broken, it’s tough to come back.

“So the focus is incredible, the focus you have to put in. And then he’s super precise, so it’s tough to get a racquet on it. Even if you guess where it comes, sometimes it bounces high and so it’s super precise, not only powerful.”