Home, Sweet Home: Isner Into Eighth Atlanta Final
It is often said that there’s no place like home, and that certainly has rung true for John Isner at the BB&T Atlanta Open — he played college tennis at the University of Georgia — over the years.
So it was no surprise that the top seed beat fourth seed Matthew Ebden 6-4, 6-7(6), 6-1 on Saturday to reach his eighth final at the ATP World Tour 250-level tournament. On Sunday, the American will try to lift his fifth trophy at the event against compatriot Ryan Harrison, who beat Brit Cameron Norrie 2-6, 6-3, 6-2.
"It was tough," Isner said on court after the win. "Just like yesterday, I was able to get out early in the third set and that definitely took some pressure off. I'm very happy to be back in the final here. I need to get in the air conditioning and just rest so I could be ready for tomorrow."
Isner now leads Ebden 4-1 in their FedEx ATP Head2Head series after avenging his lone loss against the Aussie, which came earlier this season at the Australian Open. The 33-year-old has won eight of his nine semi-finals in Atlanta, and will look to improve his record of 13-12 in tour-level finals.
For a moment, it looked like a relatively straightforward match might have turned into a disaster for the 6'10" American. Isner led by a set and a break, which appeared to cement a victory considering he arrived in Atlanta leading the ATP World Tour in service games won this season at 94.63 per cent according to Infosys ATP Scores & Stats. After breaking back, Ebden saved one match point in the ensuing tie-break when Isner missed a backhand return long.
"I didn’t like my energy once I got broken. That’s a big part, it’s intangibles out there," Isner said. "It’s not based on strokes or anything like that. My energy wasn’t great, and I think that’s what cost me the second set."
But instead of wilting in the Atlanta heat, Isner quickly recovered using the confidence from his victory at the Miami Open presented by Itau and run to the Wimbledon semi-finals to recover and break twice in the decider, coming out victorious after exactly two hours. This time, there was no slip from Isner, who hit two of his 26 aces to close out the win. It will be an Isner-Harrison final in Georgia for the second consecutive year, after Isner triumphed last year.
"I know a lot about Ryan," Isner said. "There are no secrets there, I know a lot about him. We are good friends and it’ll be a rematch of last year, so it’ll be cool."
Harrison did his part by coming from behind for the fourth straight match this week, breaking a total of three times in the final two sets against Norrie to advance after one hour, 44 minutes. The 26-year-old would also advance to the doubles final later in the evening.
Entering the tournament, Harrison had won just seven of his previous eight tour-level matches. But the American has gotten back on track with his quartet of three-set victories, moving into his fourth ATP World Tour final. Before arriving in Atlanta, Harrison had won a total of five matches from a set down since the start of the 2017 season.
If he should overcome the 3-7 deficit in his FedEx ATP Head2Head rivalry against Isner, Harrison will become the fourth American to triumph at tour-level this campaign, joining Isner (Miami), Steve Johnson (Houston & Newport) and #NextGenATP Frances Tiafoe (Delray Beach).
"It’s always a tough, but fun match when you play John. We go to tie-breaks almost every time we play. You know what you’re going to get, his serve is always dominate, but his serve is even more dominant here because of the conditions and the confidence that he plays with," Harrison said. "My job is to just try to focus on every service point with as much commitment and concentration as I can and if he doesn’t let me play a return game where I can break in the first set, then I have to be ready for a tie-break. He feels comfortable here, but this has also been one of my most successful tournaments, so I feel just as ready."
Harrison Does Double-Duty
Harrison and partner Rajeev Ram advanced to the doubles final on Saturday evening thanks to a 6-3, 6-4 win against Purav Raja and Ken Skupski. In the final, they will face third seeds Nicholas Monroe and John-Patrick Smith, who ousted Romain Arneodo and Jeremy Chardy 7-5, 4-6, 10-6.
Did You Know?
Isner can join Jimmy Connors, John McEnroe, Andre Agassi and Pete Sampras as the only Americans to win five or more titles at a single tournament if he triumphs in Atlanta on Sunday.