Isner Still Capable of US Open Title Despite Washington LossEmbed from Getty Images
It is fair to say that a straight-set defeat to a player ranked outside the top 150 does not exactly bode well for a player’s fortunes at the upcoming US Open. John Isner was defeated by his compatriot Noah Rubin in the second round at Washington, with 6-4 7-6 a competitive scoreline on paper but not necessarily indicative of how lethargic Isner looked. This win propels Rubin into the top 140 for the first time in his career, but should not diminish the expectations of Isner at the US Open. The big-serving American is otherwise in stellar form, and will view this year’s US Open as his best chance to deliver an unlikely Grand Slam title.
It is not surprising that Isner looked fatigued and unable to power down his serves in usual emphatic fashion. Isner’s run to the semi-final at Wimbledon culminated in an epic battle against Kevin Anderson, which finished an incredible 7-6 6-7 6-7 6-4 26-24 in Anderson’s favour. Isner has more experience than most in dealing with exhausting matches, and his run to the Atlanta title two weeks later demonstrates how this season has seen the American finding new levels of consistency.
What will be even more encouraging for Isner is that his Atlanta title came with only one tie-break across his four matches. Tie-breaks have become synonymous with Isner because of his status as one of, if not the, leading server on the ATP tour, with his relative weakness in returning and moving around the court causing the 6ft 10in player to rarely break opponents’ serve. Therefore the ease with which he dispatched promising talent Alex De Minaur and the wily serve-and-volleyer Mischa Zverev without requiring a tie-break marks the development in Isner’s return game this year.
Isner may never return with the speed and guile of the world’s leading players, but perhaps he doesn’t need to. If his serve is on form then there is little an opponent can do, so it is a case of Isner being ruthless on return to maximise break opportunities. Despite Isner’s strong form this year, he is still often underappreciated when it comes to discussing potential Slam winners; Isner has odds of 40/1 in tennis betting with bet365 to win the US Open title, placing him behind the likes of Denis Shapovalov, Kei Nishikori and Milos Raonic. Isner is in far better form than many of those considered more likely to triumph at Flushing Meadows, and will know that this year’s US Open could represent the best chance he’ll get to win a Grand Slam.
While the ability to rely on his serving game will ensure that the 33 year-old will remain a dangerous foe on the ATP tour for a few more years, this could be the defining tournament of Isner’s career. This year has seen him soar to a career-best ranking of 8, and his run at Wimbledon was his first Grand Slam semi-finals. Therein lies the biggest concern with Isner’s prospects; the American has never gone beyond the quarter-final in his home Grand Slam.Embed from Getty Images
The last two US Open tournaments have seen Isner fall in early rounds as a heavy pre-match favourite, but his defeat to Roger Federer in the round-of-sixteen in 2015 will give him more encouragement. The scoreline of 7-6 7-6 7-5 epitomises how Isner has the ability to keep matches close against the sport’s elite. The margins are always narrow in a tie-break; Isner could feasibly dominate on serve for forty minutes before bringing some clutch playing to nick the tie-break. He won’t always be able to do that against returners of the calibre of Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic, but he may not need to. The US Open draw last year blew wide open and saw Anderson make a shock run to the final. If the stars align for Isner this year, he could defy the odds to become the first American to win the US Open since Andy Roddick in 2003.