Michael Burgess is a sports writer for the Herald on Sunday.

Tennis: Isner winds up for third ASB Classic title

Rubin Statham of New Zealand. Photo / Nick Reed
Rubin Statham of New Zealand. Photo / Nick Reed

Talk about shooting the breeze. John Isner is back in Auckland - and ready to embrace the unpredictable conditions that come at the ASB Classic men's tournament starting on Monday.

The weather was the big topic last week, with incessant rain and blustery winds marring the first three days of the women's event.

Conditions were also less than ideal for yesterday's final between Lauren Davis and Ana Konjuh, but Isner, a two-time ASB Classic champion, has no problem with a bit of extra breeze.

"I don't mind it," said Isner, who is second seed this week. "Everyone I play against are unbelievable ball strikers, so the more conditions you can add in, I think it is going to favour me. These guys want to have rhythm, no wind and the ball in their pocket at all times."

"[But] everyone [here] has played in tough conditions - windy, super-hot and humid or cold - and you just have to deal with it.

"But I've played this tournament a lot of times and I've never thought the wind to be a huge factor."

Isner is a crowd favourite in Auckland. On his first visit in 2009, the 2.08m North Carolina native advanced through three rounds of qualifying to reach the quarter-finals, beaten by Robin Soderling. The next year, he won the final, with epic battles over Tommy Robredo and Juan Monaco en route, and again lifted the trophy in 2014.

Isner had an unexceptional campaign for most of 2016, before everything clicked at the Paris Masters. In a dream run, Isner beat David Ferrer, Jack Sock and Marin Cillic, then pushed world No 1 Andy Murray to three close sets in the final. It was a breakthrough for the 31-year-old, who, after 11 years on tour, uncovered some new keys to success.

"Paris at the end of the year shined a light on the right way to play and go about my business on the court," said Isner. "I was going for my shots more, wasn't thinking as much. I was certainly more confident and I was feeling good all week.

"It was one of those weeks where a lot of things were clicking for me. But I did earn that by playing the right way, so that is what I have to do at this tournament and the rest of the tournaments."

Like the other top four seeds, Isner receives a first round bye, but he could face compatriot Steve Johnson in the quarters and is seeded to meet Jack Sock in the last four.

There will be two Kiwis in the main draw, with Michael Venus handed a wild card yesterday.

After American Taylor Fritz was a late withdrawal, tournament director Karl Budge used his spare wildcard to reward Venus, who has been a strong performer at the ASB Classic for the past two years.

Venus made history in 2015 with the first ATP singles win by a New Zealander in more than a decade and last year pushed fringe top 10 player Benoit Paire close.

However, Venus has a tough draw, as he will face sixth-seeded Spaniard Feliciano Lopez. Fellow Kiwi Artem Sitak is pitted against world No 25 Jeremy Chardy.

The third wild card was awarded to world No 72 Dustin Brown, who boasts two wins over Rafa Nadal and has been compared with Gael Monfils in terms of style.

New Zealand No 1 Rubin Statham will face world No 90 Ryan Harrison in the second round of qualifying today, after beating Rhett Purcell in straight sets yesterday. Jerzy Janowicz and Kiwi-turned-Brit Cameron Norrie are also in action today. Finn Tearney won yesterday, also advancing to today's qualifiers.

- NZ Herald

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