Miami Rematch: Zverev Takes On Isner For Masters 1000 Glory
If someone told you that a player who lost his first match at the BNP Paribas Open and another who had two wins on the season entering the Miami Open presented by Itau would meet for the Miami title on Sunday, would you have believed them? Probably not.
But Alexander Zverev and John Isner have earned their places in the championship match at the second ATP World Tour Masters 1000 event of the year, and one of them will leave Crandon Park having made a major statement in the tournament's last match at the facility.
View FedEx ATP Head2Head for the following matches from the 2018 Miami Open presented by Itaú & vote for who you think will win!
Zverev vs Isner
Zverev had not had a bad season by any means, arriving in Florida with an 8-4 record. But three of the German’s four losses came against players outside of the Top 50 in the ATP Rankings. For someone who won five ATP World Tour titles — including two Masters 1000 trophies (Rome, Montreal) — last season, it was not the most inspiring start to the year.
But after surviving a third-set tie-break in the second round against Sydney champion Daniil Medvedev, Zverev has found some of his best tennis. He had to in his next match against former World No. 3 David Ferrer, who played at an extremely high level to take the first set before the German’s game became too overwhelming. Zverev has not lost a set since, ousting No. 17 Nick Kyrgios, Indian Wells semi-finalist Borna Coric and No. 16 Pablo Carreno Busta.
“I think I'm playing okay. I'm playing well now,” Zverev said. “Hopefully I can continue so in the final, and we'll see how that goes.”
Across the net will be a familiar face in Isner. The American, who is into his fourth Masters 1000 final (0-3), has lost all three of his FedEx ATP Head2Head meetings against Zverev, including a Round of 16 heartbreaker against him last year. Isner was unable to convert on three match points in a three tie-break thriller against the current World No. 5, who Isner called after his semi-final “the best young player this game has”.
But the 32-year-old has played by far his best tennis of the year on Key Biscayne. From the Round of 16 on, he beat World No. 2 Marin Cilic, reigning Next Gen ATP Finals champion Hyeon Chung and BNP Paribas Open champion Juan Martin del Potro — arguably the favourite in Miami — all in straight sets while facing just one break point (against Chung, which he saved).
“With my game, if I'm doing the right things, it doesn't really matter who I'm playing,” said Isner, who won the Indian Wells doubles title with Jack Sock. “I'm going to be very tough to beat.”
The key to the match will likely be Zverev’s second serve. Against Del Potro, Isner made it clear from the first ball that for better or for worse he was going to go after almost every one of the Argentine’s second deliveries, and it paid dividends. In 2017, the American won 41 per cent of second-serve return points, according to Infosys ATP Scores & Stats, but he won 45 per cent of those points against the most in-form player on the ATP World Tour on Friday.
In Isner's and Zverev's three previous FedEx ATP Head2Head meetings, Isner won just 39 per cent of second-serve return points against Zverev, while the German won 49 per cent of those points against arguably the best server in the sport. Entering Miami, Isner was third all-time in having won 56 per cent of his second-serve points.
The German will have to avoid letting the World No. 17 take the first cut at the ball in rallies and will need to elongate points as much as he can and keep Isner on the defencive, behind the baseline. If the 20-year-old can control the pace of play, a third Masters 1000 title may very well be within his reach. But if he allows the match to slip to Isner’s racquet, forehands may zoom by him like they did Del Potro. And while he has beaten the American three times, he will not be looking to his past success on Sunday.
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"It's going to be a completely different match. I think he's going to hit a lot of aces, a lot of winners," Zverev said. "But I'm ready for it, and hopefully it will be another great one."
For Isner, it will be a successful tournament regardless of the result, as he will break back into the Top 10 of the ATP Rankings on Monday for the first time since May 2014 despite winning just two matches this year prior to Miami. But he hopes to complete his massive turnaround in form to claim his maiden Masters 1000 title after losing to Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Andy Murray in his first three finals at this level.
“If I'm not playing too confidently out there and not doing the right things on the court, I can be beaten by anybody, as well,” Isner said. “It's been a very streaky year so far, but I'm very happy to be on the good side of that streak right now.”