Isner Hits Del Potro Off The Court To Reach Miami Final
John Isner might be playing the tennis of his life. The 32-year-old American stunned Juan Martin del Potro on Friday, upsetting the Argentine 6-1, 7-6(2) in their semi-final at the Miami Open presented by Itau.
The American did little wrong against Del Potro, who was on a 15-match win streak and leads the ATP World Tour with 21 wins this season. Isner's serve, as usual, was dominant, but his groundstrokes and volleys carried him to victory. He swung freely and played aggressively, finishing with 39 winners to only 10 from Del Potro.
“Things are just clicking. Look, if I'm returning well and getting in return games, that should bode well for me, given how I serve. Very happy it's all sort of coming together right now,” Isner said. “I just know with my game, if I'm doing the right things, it doesn't really matter who I'm playing. I'm going to be very tough to beat.”
Isner moved into his fourth ATP World Tour Masters 1000 final (0-3; 2016 Paris, 2013 Cincinnati, 2012 Indian Wells). He will face either Alexander Zverev of Germany or Spain's Pablo Carreno Busta for the opportunity to call himself a “Masters 1000 titlist”.
The last time Del Potro lost was more than a month ago, on 22 February against #NextGenATP American Frances Tiafoe at the Delray Beach Open. Since then, the Argentine had captured back-to-back titles in Acapulco and Indian Wells. Del Potro had to save three match points against No. 1 Roger Federer in the BNP Paribas Open final to win his maiden Masters 1000 crown.
The Argentine's rise was in stark contrast to Isner's start to the year. The American was 2-6 and hadn't won consecutive matches all season before Miami. “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,” Isner said.
He had a clear game plan and executed it perfectly against Del Potro during their 10th FedEx ATP Head2Head meeting. Isner teed off on any short ball or serve lacking, and he opened the court up well – targeting Del Potro's backhand before hitting to his forehand corner, or vice versa.
Isner broke in the third game, pounding Del Potro's backhand before hitting a forehand volley winner at net. After only 27 minutes, he had a one-set lead, thanks to 19 winners, compared to zero from his opponent.
“There was a game plan. I stuck to it pretty well. I think more importantly than that, it was just a case of me playing some good tennis out there and being relaxed, which was crucial,” Isner said.
Del Potro, behind a boisterous Argentine crowd on Key Biscayne, recovered in the second set. But Isner was too strong, too aggressive, too confident. He never faced a break point all match, and in the tie-break, his volleys, including a backhand dropper on match point, pushed him into Sunday's final.
“John deserved to win today. He served unbelievable. He played great tennis on the tie-break. He was too good for me,” Del Potro said.
Isner said he's playing some of his best tennis in years because of two reasons: his doubles title earlier this month at the BNP Paribas Open, and nightly conversations with one of his coaches David Macpherson.
“[Doubles] kept me in match mode, and I was getting real live reps on return. Playing in a pressure situation, even though it's doubles, I think that helped a lot. When I have done well in doubles in the past, it's always carried over to my singles game,” Isner said.
“With my coach, David Macpherson and I... we have been having dinner every night and talking some things over. So it's not a situation this week where I was just putting in the hard work. Of course I was working hard, but I have been more relaxed on the court, and I think that's showing in my play.”
DID YOU KNOW?
Isner leads all players in reaching four Masters 1000 semi-finals during the past 12 months (2017 Rome, Cincinnati, Paris; 2018 Miami).