Isner, Johnson Set All-American Semi-final
John Isner and Steve Johnson set an all-American semi-final in Washington, D.C.
The No. 8 seed Isner had beaten Ricardas Berankis in a straight-sets quarter-final only last week on his way to a 10th career title in Atlanta, but needed one hour and 52 minutes to get past the World No. 86 this time round, 6-3, 5-7, 6-3. He will square off against his unseeded compatriot, Johnson, after his win in an all-American quarter-final over Jack Sock 7-6(5), 6-1.
Appearing in his 13th ATP World Tour quarter-final, Berankis had ended the run of Teymuraz Gabashvili after the Russian’s upset of top seed Andy Murray. He only managed to bring up his first break point on the Isner serve when scores were locked at 5-5 in the second set. But it would be the only chance he needed, breaking before serving the set out 7-5.
“I can’t recall, maybe I didn’t hit my spots on my serve,” Isner said of conceding serve deep in the second set. “He caught a few returns pretty clean. He does that.”
Isner, though, came out firing in the decider, breaking the Lithuanian’s opening service game before breaking serve to love for 3-0. The run of service breaks would continue with Berankis returning the favour. He broke to love to peg back one of the two breaks for 1-3 before Isner would again break to seal the match. Despite dropping serve both times on the only two break points he faced, the American finished the match with 20 aces, winning 73 per cent of his total service points.
“He takes really big cuts on the ball and if I miss my spot he really likes pace,” Isner said. “He did it one time in the third set as well. He just caught fire and was swinging away. I didn’t panic because it was one set to go. I could have very easily lost that [second] set in a tie-breaker so it was all good.”
Against Johnson, he will be looking to equal his best result in Washington from two years ago when he reached the decider. It is a match he will be determined to stamp his authority in as the top-ranked American.
“I do take pride in being the No. 1 American,” he said. “These guys are kind of getting at my heels and they want to get into that spot as well. It’s definitely very competitive, but we’re all really good friends as well so for now, it’s definitely my spot.”
Johnson continued his impressive run in upsetting countryman and No. 15 seed Sock, who was unable to back up his win over No. 4 seed Richard Gasquet. Neither player faced a break point in the opening set and it was 25-year-old Johnson – who had earlier taken down seeded players Grigor Dimitrov and Bernard Tomic – who edged the tie-break 7/5.
From there he would run away with the match in one hour and 15 minutes, breaking twice in the second set and impressively finishing the match without facing a break point throughout. His tactic coming into the match hardly came as a surprise.
“Take care of my serve, always first and foremost,” Johnson said. “And play aggressive and try to make him as uncomfortable as possible on his own serve. Tonight in the 'breaker I had a couple of good looks. Fortunately it all went according to plan. I executed the game plan in the second and got the break. I really kind of took it to him and was fortunate to get the second break and extend the lead.”
Against Isner he will face a close friend, a player he said he practised with often. “He’s meant a lot to my career, coming from college,” he said. “It’s fun going to battle against a guy who’s a great competitor.”