Tuesday, January 19, 2010
American wrap: Isner standing tall
John Isner's week at the Australian Open began well.
Strolling near the player cafe Sunday, he was stopped in his tracks by all-world star Roger Federer, who extended a hand and congratulated the surging Isner on winning his first title Saturday at Auckland's Heineken Open. It probably made up for his bags not arriving from New Zealand on time.
"That was pretty cool," Isner, whose baby face counters his towering 6-foot-9 frame, told reporters. "I didn't really think he would even know, but he did. Anytime Roger can talk to you, let alone congratulate you, it's pretty neat."
The week got even better Tuesday, as the 33rd seed hit 34 aces to down steady Italian Andreas Seppi 6-3, 6-3, 3-6, 5-7, 6-4. Isner overcame his frustration, cracking a racket when it inadvertently struck the ground rather than his bag, to prevail.
Isner admitted he caught a break by getting an extra day of rest thanks to rain Monday. The rain gave way to partly cloudy and warmer conditions with less wind, which suits his big-hitting game.
Other American winners included James Blake, Taylor Dent and Vania King, who saved four match points to upend gritty Slovakian Dominika Cibulkova. Oh, the usual suspects -- Serena and Venus Williams -- cruised, too.
Sam Querrey's 2010 slump and Ryan Harrison's education at the top level continued.
Isner had lady luck on his side heading into the year's first major. Originally unseeded and in the immediate section of defending champion Rafael Nadal, he was steered away from Nadal when Frenchman Gilles Simon withdrew injured. Isner's second-round foe is now Ireland's Louk Sorensen (yes, from Ireland). Sorensen, a qualifier, became the first Irish player in the main draw of a Grand Slam in 25 years.
"If I can get to the second week for the second straight major, that would be huge," said Isner, who upset Andy Roddick en route to a fourth-round showing at the U.S. Open.
Isner and Querrey are the likely singles starters when the U.S. travels to Serbia in the opening round of the Davis Cup in March, since Roddick and Blake, the long-established pair, have ruled themselves out.
Unlike Isner, Querrey can't buy a win.
Querrey lost in the first round in Brisbane and Sydney, with experienced German veteran Rainer Schuettler inflicting the latest defeat, 6-3, 2-6, 6-4, 6-3. A downbeat Querrey suffered from leg cramps in the fourth set, which left him puzzled.
"I expected a lot coming out here," Querrey, seeded 25th, said. "I worked so hard for, like, three months. I'm extremely fit right now. I feel like I'm hitting the ball in practice better than ever. I can count the practice matches I've lost in the last three months on two fingers. I just have to translate that into the matches."
Meanwhile, the weather did King no favors on Monday. Ranked 79th, she led 6-3, 1-2 against 23-seed Cibulkova, the French Open semifinalist, but play was suspended. Cibulkova, as most would have expected, rallied to take the second set 7-6 (5) and stormed to a 5-1 lead in the third.
Cue the King rally, as she took the next six games.
Blake, unseeded at a major for the first time in five years, beat fellow veteran Arnaud Clement 7-5, 7-5, 6-2. Clement was in good form, having reached the Auckland final.
Blake was broken only once, which made him smile. Blake and new coach Kelly Jones have been working on the serve, among other things. He remains close with former coach Brian Barker, who is at his home in Tampa and playing plenty of golf.
Blake has more than a moderate chance against U.S. Open champion Juan Martin del Potro in the second round. Del Potro is struggling with a wrist injury and needed four sets to eliminate Michael Russell in the opening round. The forehands should be out in full force.
"I can't worry if he's injured," said Blake. "I know he's a great player, so I'm going to go out knowing I need to play a great match to win. If I do that, great."
Harrison, a huge prospect touted to finish inside the top 100 this season, exited to improving Serbian Janko Tipsarevic 6-2, 6-4, 7-6 (3). Taylor Dent's comeback from a debilitating back injury is progressing nicely. The chip-charging Dent, who has Australian ties, routed Italian clay-courter Fabio Fognini 6-1, 6-3, 6-3.
Melanie Oudin endured a miserable end of 2009 following an uplifting U.S. Open that saw the 18-year-old turn into a national darling. Her woes continued, as she was sent packing 2-6, 7-5, 7-5 by Russian Alla Kudryavtseva, author of an upset win over Maria Sharapova at Wimbledon in 2008.
Oudin, her left thigh strapped, nonetheless stayed on court afterward to sign autographs. And with a smile.