Isner Dazzles On Serve To Break New Ground
Service performance the key for Isner in second win over Cilic
John Isner came through a fascinating serve-dominated quarter-final against Marin Cilic on Friday, when the fortunes and confidence levels of both players fluctuated, at the Internazionali BNL d’Italia.
Winning 69 per cent of his second serves, Isner struck 21 aces to edge past sixth seed Cilic 7-6(3), 2-6, 7-6(2) in two hours and 38 minutes for a place in the semi-finals.
The 6’10” Isner is the first American to reach the last four at the Foro Italico since Andy Roddick in 2008. He will now play #NextGenATP No. 16 seed Alexander Zverev, who beat fifth seed and 2014 semi-finalist Milos Raonic, on Saturday. Isner trails 20-year-old Zverev 0-2 in their FedEx ATP Head2Head series.
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"It doesn't matter what the surface, I feel I can play well on all surfaces," said Isner. "Nothing changes for me. Whether I'm playing on grass, hard, or clay, it's the same recipe. I'm going to serve and hold my serve a lot. I can hold my serve in mud out there, really. So I like my serve no matter the surface. It just so happens to be that this week I'm sort of putting it together. Clay can be a great surface for me, but I also can play poorly on clay.
"Against Sascha [Zverev], it's an extremely tough match. I actually know him very well, since he was very young. I train with him a bunch, and I played him two times and I'm 0-2. I would certainly love to get some revenge on him. But he's playing remarkably well, and it was only a matter of time, in my opinion, before he started having results like this."
Isner, 32, who has now hit a tournament-high 93 aces in four matches en route to the semi-finals, beat Cilic for the second successive time after winning 54 of his 79 (68%) first-service points and 18 of his 26 (69%) second-service points. His previous-best ATP World Tour Masters 1000 clay-court result was a run to the 2015 Mutua Madrid Open quarter-finals (l. to Berdych).
Isner set up the first break point chance of the pair’s eighth meeting with Cilic serving at 3-4, 30-all, when the American ripped a forehand winner down the line. While Cilic saved the break point, the lone opportunity of the set, pressure mounted on his shoulders. World No. 24 Isner did not hit a second serve in his first two service game, then finished the 55-minute opener having lost just six of his service points (20/26 on first serve, 7/7 on second serve). The set ended when Cilic hit a forehand into the net.
Cilic responded immediately by breaking Isner’s serve – for only the second time this week – with a forehand winner in the second game and grew in confidence. Having won 10 of the first 12 points in the set, Cilic later came within a point of a 4-0 advantage on two occasions. At 5-2, the Croatian broke for a second time when Isner hit a backhand wide, one of his 10 errors in the 41-minute set.
Cilic had the momentum and, in serving first, kept the pressure firmly on Isner. But it was Isner who gained the lone break point opportunity of the decider on Cilic’s serve at 3-3, 30/40. A mis-hit smash at 1/2 in the tie-break cost Cilic dear, as his game began to unravel. A backhand into the net gave Isner his 12th match win of the year.
"I just felt like I kept my composure out there," said Isner. "I knew it was going to be a tough match [and that] I was going to win a lot of quick points. So I knew at the very least I was going to be in the match. That's exactly what happened. I felt like I played well when it mattered, and it's good to win a match like that. I have certainly lost a bunch like that in the past two years, really."
The 28-year-old Cilic, who captured his 17th tour-level title at Istanbul (d. Raonic) last month, is now 13-10 on the season (8-3 on clay).