John Isner makes first Wimbledon quarterfinal
John Isner waited a lot longer than his famed marathon encounter against Nicolas Mahut to finally make a Wimbledon quarterfinal. But it is a case of better late than never for the towering American.
On Wimbledon’s unique ‘Manic Monday’ — all 32 players remaining in singles are on the schedule — Isner beat Greece’s budding star Stefanos Tsitsipas 6-4 7-6 (10-8) 7-6 (7-4) to make the last eight in still steamy southwest London.
“I’m very happy to be in the quarters,” Isner told reporters. “Feeling good. Definitely confident that I can keep going.
“Certainly this tournament since that long match has sort of been a house of horrors for me. I’ve lost a lot of close ones since that match in 2010, a lot of very, very close ones, a lot of deep five-set matches, third round especially.”
The ninth seed also moved a step closer to a potential semifinal with Roger Federer — whose comfortable win over Adrian Mannarino meant the Swiss hasn’t lost at SW19 since the 2016 semifinals — while Rafael Nadal ended his six-year Wimbledon quarterfinal drought.
Isner’s pal Serena Williams leads the list of women’s contenders at this stage. And not for the first time.
Williams wins over fellow mom
The 23-time grand slam champion triumphed over fellow mom Evgeniya Rodina 6-2 6-2 as the last top-10 women’s seed, Karolina Pliskova, departed at the hands of Kiki Bertens 6-3 7-6 (7-1).
If Isner does reach the semifinals Friday, he would “love” for US President Donald Trump to watch him. Trump is due to visit the UK towards the end of this week.
“I’d love to have Trump come watch me,” he said. “That would be awesome. Maybe I’ll tweet at him if I win on Wednesday. I know a lot of people won’t like that, but I don’t care.”
Williams wasn’t as enthusiastic when asked for her thoughts on Trump watching her in Saturday’s women’s final if she gets that far. “But I feel like he has the right to do whatever he wants to do. If he wants to come to a Wimbledon final, he has that right,” she said.
“I hope I’ll be there. I don’t know. I still have a lot of matches to win. For me, I can’t even think that far. I’m just thinking one at a time.”
If you had a ticket for Centre Court on Monday, you probably will want to keep it as a memento. Tennis icons Federer, Williams and Nadal have combined for 60 singles majors.
All three haven’t dropped a set this fortnight, suggesting they won’t be exiting anytime soon.
Isner, meanwhile, is seeking a first major.
Eight years ago, he outlasted Mahut 70-68 in a fifth set in an encounter that took three days to complete. It was, by far, the longest match in tennis history.
A year later in 2011 Isner reached his first grand slam quarterfinal in New York but more success at majors didn’t follow. Indeed it was the opposite.
Grand slam heartbreak
The 33-year-old has suffered his share of heartbreak, entering this Wimbledon with a 4-9 record in fifth sets since the start of 2012.
Almost half of those losses went past 12 games in the fifth, including at all three grand slams where there are no final-set tiebreaks: A 19-17 reverse to Jo-Wilfried Tsonga at Wimbledon in 2016, 18-16 loss to Paul Henri Mathieu at the French Open in 2012 and 9-7 loss to Mischa Zverev at the Australian Open last year.
Twelve months ago at Wimbledon, the 6-foot-11 Isner was felled by the diminutive Dudi Sela in, yes, five sets.
Isner ended his fifth set hoodoo last week at Wimbledon and in dramatic fashion, saving two match points to defeat Belgium’s Ruben Bemelmans while crunching 64 aces.
“When you have left this tournament the last nine, 10 years pretty disappointed with my result, gone home sort of hanging my head a little bit,” said Isner. “But not the case this year.
“I’ve always told myself, ‘Just keep doing what you do,’ keep giving myself more chances. I want to keep coming to this event feeling good, playing well. That was the case this year. I’ve made good on that.”
Speaking of aces, the combined tally in his next outing could reach triple digits given that he plays 2016 finalist Milos Raonic. Isner leads the tournament with 135 aces, followed by Raonic’s 117.
Federer doesn’t hit his serve as fast as Isner or Raonic but he combines still considerable pace with variety. The eight-time champion stared at his first four break points of the event but saved them all against Mannarino in the 6-0 7-5 6-4 victory. The 22nd seed made things competitive after a 16-minute opener.
The last time Federer was broken at Wimbledon came in last year’s semifinals against Tomas Berdych.
Isner’s collegiate rival, the 6-foot-8 Kevin Anderson, is Federer’s foe in the quarterfinals.
Ten years after Federer met Nadal at Wimbledon in what many consider the greatest tennis match of all time, could they meet again in this Sunday’s men’s final?
Well, Nadal wants to be there — with someone other than Federer on the other side of the net.
“Facing Roger again will be something fantastic,” Nadal, a 6-3 6-3 6-4 winner over Jiri Vesely, began. “If you ask me if I prefer another (player), I say yes. That’s the point. It’s about being smart, no?
“The overall goal is try to win the tournament. Depends against who you play you have less or more chances to win. That’s the thing,” added Nadal, who has lost five straight to Federer after bossing most of their previous matches.
Nadal won’t be overly thinking about that just yet, content no doubt to bask in his achievement of returning to the quarterfinals for the first time since 2011.
The Spaniard has received a nice draw — up against predominantly baseliners without overpowering serves — and taken advantage.
But that could change Wednesday if, as expected, he encounters Juan Martin del Potro. Del Potro’s road got tougher, however, since darkness halted his outing against Gilles Simon with the Argentine leading 7-6 (7-1) 7-6 (7-5) 5-7. It means the 2009 US Open champion will play Tuesday instead of having a day off.
The winner of Nadal’s quarterfinal could land Novak Djokovic. Djokovic, who beat the fading light last up on Court 1 and Karen Khachanov 6-4 6-2 6-2, would first need to bypass past a familiar opponent, Kei Nishikori.
Nishikori completes grand slam set
Nishikori completed his grand slam quarterfinal collection and became the first Japanese player to make the Wimbledon last eight since Shuzo Matsuoka in 1995 when he beat Latvian qualifier Ernests Gulbis 4-6 7-6 (7-5) 7-6 (12-10) 6-1.
Both players needed medical timeouts: Nishikori for an upper arm issue and Gulbis for his left knee after slipping in the key third-set tiebreak.
Williams was intermittently patchy against Rodina, which shouldn’t come as a surprise. The 36-year-old faced enormous pressure in being the substantial favorite against the 120th-ranked qualifier.
But despite the minor blips, Williams advanced in 62 minutes playing in her fourth tournament since giving birth to daughter Olympia in September.
“I’m always striving for perfection,” said Williams. “There’s a lot of things that I don’t know if you can tell, but I really need to work on. Hopefully I can get there.”
Williams holds a 3-0 record against her next challenger, maiden grand slam quarterfinalist Camila Giorgi of Italy.
The last of Williams’ seven Wimbledon titles came in 2016, Angelique Kerber her opponent in the final.
They could clash in the women’s final since Kerber — who beat Belinda Bencic for the first time — is on the other side of the draw.