Isner Makes Winning Return At Wimbledon
The ninth seed, who had been sidelined since that match with a broken left foot, defeated #NextGenATP Norwegian Casper Ruud 6-3, 6-4, 7-6(11) on Tuesday in just under two hours to reach the second round at Wimbledon.
“I feel pretty good. I'm happy. I was just happy to be back out there. Of course happy to win,” said Isner, who made his first Grand Slam semi-final here last year. “It was touch and go for a little bit whether I was going to play this tournament. So I was just happy to be back out there. If I didn't win, as long as I walked off the court healthy, I would have been happy with that.”
Isner’s original plan after getting hurt was to try to return for the Mutua Madrid Open and, at the very least, Roland Garros. But what his medical team originally thought was a stress fracture turned out to be a broken foot, scans revealed once his inflammation went down. Finally, he was cleared to start practising just in time for this event.
“I got some good news finally from doctors. They told me they think my foot is ready to go, which it wasn't at Roland Garros. I just needed really three more weeks,” Isner said. “Of course I would have liked a little more practice coming into here, but I think I'm maybe one player who can do okay without much practice. I just wasn't able to. I wasn't able to get on the court.”
Ruud, the Houston finalist who dropped his opening service game in the first two sets, held set points at 7/6 and 9/8 in the third-set tie-break before Isner clinched the victory on his third match point.
Isner will take a 4-0 FedEx ATP Head2Head record into his next match against Kazakhstan's Mikhail Kukushkin, a 6-3, 6-2, 6-4 winner over Spaniard Pablo Andujar. It is Kukushkin’s fourth straight trip to the second round at The All England Club.
“He hits the ball very flat, especially on the backhand side. It's almost like underspin. Whereas my opponent today, I think, fortunately for me hit the ball with a lot of topspin,” Isner said. “He's going to do what he does, keep the ball very low. It's going to be tricky for me because I'm a big guy. I have played him a few times, and he has given me some trouble because he can hit some very good shots that can sort of frustrate you at times. His backhand is very good. It will be a tough match, for sure.”
Isner is defending 720 ATP Ranking points this fortnight due to his semi-final run last year. But the American is not stressing over that.
“I never think about how I did last year or losing these points or defending these points at all,” Isner said. “I'm just happy to be out there and played free. Just see what happens.”
Three of the Top 8 seeds were eliminated in the first round. And while Isner does not consider himself one of the event’s leading favourites, he marvels at the success of those who are: eight-time champion Roger Federer, World No. 1 Novak Djokovic and two-time titlist Rafael Nadal. The trio advanced to the second round without facing much trouble.
“It's amazing to look at the Grand Slam stats. I mean, what has Roger won, 20? And he can't even say he's the greatest player of all-time at 20 Grand Slams. It's incredible. These guys are pushing each other,” Isner said. “Rafa has 18 and then Djokovic is 15, not slowing down. It's remarkable. These guys are pushing each other. I think when all's said and done, it's going to be arguing who's better, Michael or LeBron? It will impossible to tell.”
Another veteran who advanced Tuesday was No. 13 seed Marin Cilic, who ousted 's-Hertogenbosch champion Adrian Mannarino 7-6(6), 7-6(4), 6-3. Cilic made the 2017 Wimbledon final, and three consecutive quarter-finals before that.
Next up for the Croat is Portuguese No. 1 Joao Sousa, who ousted NCAA singles champion and British wild card Paul Jubb 6-0, 6-3, 6-7(8), 6-1 in two hours and 16 minutes. Cilic has won all four of their FedEx ATP Head2Head meetings without dropping a set.