After a tough three-set victory Thursday, John Isner hoped for an easier match in Friday’s BB&T Atlanta Open quarterfinal against James Blake.
It wasn’t a walk, but the top-seeded Isner knocked off Blake in two sets, 7-6 (1), 7-6 (5), to advance to the semifinals for the fourth consecutive year and continue his impressive record in tiebreakers.
“If you’ve watched me play over the years, I win a lot of matches like that,” Isner said.
Isner fired 21 aces in beating Blake, giving him 50 in his two victories in the Atlanta Open this year.
He also improved to 23-6 in tiebreakers this year, including the one he needed to knock off Christian Harrison 7-6 (9), 4-6, 7-5 on Thursday night.
“When I’m in that situation, a lot of times, it sort of favors me, given how I can end the points quickly,” Isner said, referring to his serves. “… Whether it’s getting up 1-0 with me serving or me winning two points on my serve in the tiebreaker, it puts a lot of pressure back on my opponent. If they slip up one point on their serve, then the set and that tiebreak could be over. It’s a situation I’m comfortable in.”
He will face Lleyton Hewitt, who defeated Ivan Dodig 1-6, 6-3, 6-0 earlier in the day.
Isner is 1-4 in his career against Hewitt, including a three-set loss earlier this month in the Newport, R.I., semifinals and another three-set loss in Indian Wells in March. Isner had an easy explanation as to why Hewitt has a winning record against him.
“His return of serve is incredible,” he said. “He gets his racket on the ball, somehow, someway. That and how he competes is what got him to No. 1 in the world and two Grand Slams. He has a great record against me. I know I can beat him. I know I need to serve very well.”
Friday’s first set was typical for Isner: full of big serves, with neither he nor Blake able to reach break point in any game.
Isner went ahead 5-1 in the tiebreaker and took the sixth point with a drop shot at the net. He finished the first set with his 12th ace, this one down the center service line.
Blake took the first game in the second set and then had triple break point in the second game, eventually finishing it to take a 2-0 lead. Isner didn’t even try to return two of Blake’s shots in the game, watching one that was particularly close bounce by.
Blake held serve for a 3-0 lead, and a frustrated Isner slammed his white hat onto the blue court as he walked to his chair during the change-over.
“I didn’t like how I started the second set,” Isner said. “But I was able to regroup and come back in the second set.”
Trailing 4-2, Isner caught a break when Blake double-faulted at 30-40, giving Isner the game and a lifeline.
“That’s what matches with John Isner come down to, is one or two points,” said Blake, who is 0-3 against Isner.
Both players continued to hold serve to force another tiebreaker. Isner had a chance to take a 5-4 lead onto his serve, but he slammed a forehand into the net with a wide-open court in front of him to give Blake the advantage.
Isner bounced back from that mistake with two more aces to take a 6-5 lead. Blake fired a forehand wide to give Isner the match.
“A lot of times I play my best tennis in the tiebreak,” he said. “It’s not a coincidence I played pretty good in that tiebreak. I need to have sense of urgency in other portions of the set.”