Tennis: Isner wins marathon match

By Kris Shannon

John Isner advanced to the semifinals of the Heineken Open after edging past Phillip Kohlschreiber. Photo / Greg Bowker
John Isner advanced to the semifinals of the Heineken Open after edging past Phillip Kohlschreiber. Photo / Greg Bowker

If the rules of tennis made room for draws, today's quarter-final between John Isner and Philipp Kohlschreiber would have met every criterion.

But with a spot in the Heineken Open semifinals up for grabs, there had to be a winner and Isner emerged on top after a marathon match at Stanley St.

In almost two-and-a-half hours of high-quality tennis, neither man managed to break the other's serve, with all three sets requiring tie-breaks to find a victor.

Isner came back from a set down to win both the second and third breakers, setting up a semifinal tomorrow against Roberto Bautista Agut. It could have been an all-American clash in the final four, but Bautista Agut dispatched of an out-of-sorts Jack Sock 6-1 6-3 earlier in the day.

Isner, the third seed, will start as a firm favourite against the world No 73, though the American's conditioning will receive a severe test following today's exertions.

Fortunately for the 2.08m Isner, his type of game is hardly built on covering every inch of the court. The world No 14 showed his reliance on his not-so-secret weapon against Kohlschreiber, firing down 18 aces and winning a remarkable 83 per cent of points off his first serve.

"I served exceptionally well and that's the only reason I won," Isner said. "I was able to stay even with him throughout the whole match, primarily because of my serve.

"Some days you're just in a good rhythm, and I was certainly in a good rhythm today. I need to make adjustments outside of my serve and that's what I have to get better on."

Any deficiencies in Isner's ground game weren't exploited, with Kohlschreiber bringing up only three break points across 18 games. Isner had just seven of his own, but managed the crucial mini-break to take out the final tie-break.

With each set lasting the distance, Isner was always going to hold the advantage, given he possesses the best tie-break record on the ATP. The American also had previous experience of playing in matches without service breaks, unsurprisingly so given his serving prowess.

"You certainly don't see it too often but there's a lot of things when I play that you don't see too often," Isner said. "It's not out of the realm of possibility with me."

For Kohlschreiber, who reached the quarter-finals for the ninth time in 10 trips to Auckland, there was little to rue after a match devoid of opportunities. He had won his previous two matches against Isner but failed to manufacture many openings in his return game.

"It was one of those matches where I really didn't do anything wrong," he said. "It was very interesting and high-quality, but it was tough to be a loser. I didn't have too many mistakes so it was a bit strange to lose.

"There were maybe two or three little chances in the whole two hours and he played very well in those important moments."

Isner will be hoping to do likewise when he encounters Bautista Agut tomorrow. The Spaniard was clinical against Sock but didn't really need to do much other than keep the ball in the court, wrapping up the match in just 63 minutes.

"He made a lot of mistakes because I forced him, returning everything," said the world No 73. "When he has no time, he is a little bit worse."

The third man into semifinals was Yen-Hsun Lu, who ended the fairytale run of lucky loser Steve Johnson in a straight sets victory. He will play the winner of the final quarter-final between defending champion David Ferrer and Guillermo Garcia-Loez.

- APNZ

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