John's Maiden Masters Moment: Isner Surges To Historic Title

Big-serving American rallies for thrilling victory in Miami final

It was a fitting sendoff for Crandon Park, as the Miami Open presented by Itau bade farewell to its longtime home on Sunday with a thrilling finale.

A captivating championship saw John Isner rally past Alexander Zverev 6-7(4), 6-4, 6-4 for the title, adding a historic first ATP World Tour Masters 1000 crown to his trophy case. The American and the German wrote one last chapter in Key Biscayne, battling for two and a half hours in humid conditions.

At 32 years, 11 months, Isner is the oldest first-time winner at the ATP World Tour Masters 1000 level. In fact, only two other players (Agassi, Federer) older than Isner have won a Masters 1000 title. The big-hitting American overturned an 0-3 record in finals at the elite level, having previously finished runner-up to Roger Federer at Indian Wells 2012, to Rafael Nadal at Cincinnati 2013 and to Andy Murray at Paris 2016.

"To win like that in front of a crowd like that, with that atmosphere, you can't replicate moments like that," said Isner. "It was absolutely amazing.

"This tournament has so much history. All the best players have played here thought the years. For Sascha and I to share the court in the last men's singles match ever here at this tournament is amazing. I never thought I would be in this moment considering how I was playing coming into this event."

Isner's triumph has significant ATP Rankings implications as well, with the North Carolina native moving up eight spots to match his career-high of No. 9. The 32-year-old, who adds 1,000 ATP Rankings points and $1,340,860 in prize money, has retaken No. 1 American mantle after relinquishing it last year.

Isner entered the final having earned 37 consecutive service holds, facing just one break point in that span. And the American looked to be the stronger of the two competitors in the early stages, moving swiftly around the court and firing his forehand with aplomb. 

Zverev started slow, striking a double fault to give Isner two break points in his opening service game. As he has done throughout the week, an aggressive Isner pounced on second serve returns and the American would jump on a short delivery to earn a third opportunity. But Zverev did well to turn aside all three break chances, as well as another two at 3-2.

With football legend David Beckham in attendance, the first set would be decided by a tie-break, where both players battled bouts of nerves. The lead vacillated from one side to the other, before Zverev reeled off four straight points to put a clamp on the opener after exactly one hour.

Singles & Doubles Masters 1000 Titles In the Same Year (since 2000)

Winner Singles Title(s) Doubles Title
John Isner (2018) Miami Indian Wells
Rafael Nadal (2012) Monte-Carlo & Rome Indian Wells
Rafael Nadal (2010)
Monte-Carlo, Madrid & Rome Indian Wells
Rafael Nadal (2008) Monte-Carlo, Hamburg & Toronto Monte-Carlo
Wayne Ferreira (2000) Stuttgart Monte-Carlo

Beginning to labour with the oppressive conditions and under the pressure of Zverev's exceptional return game, Isner began to conserve energy in the second set. It would pay dividends. With Zverev serving at 4-all, a bevy of deep forehands from Isner's racquet would force Zverev into striking multiple errors. And the American would close out the set after saving a pair of break points in the next game. Imploring the crowd to get behind him, he would force a decider in dramatic fashion.

Isner continued to ratchet up the pressure in the third set and despite failing to convert on four break points - including a 0/40 look - at 2-all, he would not disappoint with the match on the line. The American claimed his second break of the championship for 5-4 and closed out the title in the next game, firing his 18th ace to emerge victorious. In total, he launched 44 winners and dominated the rallies under five points throughout the final (73-58). 

"It's incredible," Isner added. "I mean, to come back after a pretty disappointing first set, a first set I had certainly some chances in and some break points. I was serving at 4/3 in the tie-break and lost four straight points. At that point I was actually exhausted. Somewhere along in the second set I found a second wind and I felt so much better in the second set and the third set than I did in the first."

Isner finally cracked Zverev's stranglehold on their FedEx ATP Head2Head series, claiming his first win in four encounters. All four meetings have come at the ATP World Tour Masters 1000 stage.  Moreover, Isner is the first American to win in Miami since Andy Roddick in 2010 and the first player ranked outside the Top 10 to lift the trophy since 1991, when World No. 18 Jim Courier prevailed.

Isner kicked his high-powered game to new heights throughout the fortnight, dropping just one set en route to the title. Behind a confident array of net approaches and masterful court coverage, he notched convincing victories over fellow seeds Marin Cilic, Hyeon Chung and Juan Martin del Potro, leading into Sunday's triumph. It marks the first time he has beaten a pair of Top 5 players in a single tournament.

In total, Isner adds a 13th tour-level crown and first of the year. With Del Potro winning in Indian Wells, it marks the first time since 2003 that two non-Europeans have swept the March Masters. That year, Lleyton Hewitt and Andre Agassi split the honours.

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Zverev caps a strong week that saw him drop just one set entering the final, with impressive wins over Nick Kyrgios, Borna Coric and Pablo Carreno Busta. He was seeking his third ATP World Tour Masters 1000 crown, following victories in Rome and Montreal last year. The German, who was competing in his 10th tour-level final, is now 6-4 in title matches and remains in search of his first trophy of 2018.

"I think I missed more shots today than I did the whole tournament," said Zverev. "I played bad from the baseline. But, it's not easy against John, because you always feel the pressure that if you get broken you're not going to win the set. That's maybe a factor, but I had a lot of mistakes today that I didn't do the whole week.

"But he played great. He played very well from the baseline and he returned very well. Obviously there's his serve, but we don't need to talk about the serve. I had a pretty good tactic and a gameplan, which, if you just miss, it doesn't matter. It was not about that. It was more about me not finding a rhythm." 

John Isner's fortnight in Miami was as improbable as it was impressive. The American came into the Miami Open presented by Itau with only two tour-level match wins to his name in 2018. He owned a 2-6 record, with opening-round defeats in Auckland, the Australian Open, New York, Acapulco and Indian Wells.