US Open Blog: Isner Gives Himself a Shot Against Federer Saturday, Do You?
by Richard Vach | August 30th, 2007, 1:43 am

At the pro level, where players have spent the majority of their lives hitting backhands and forehands, the game is mostly mental. Sometimes players really believe the things they say. Sometimes they don’t really believe, but say they do, hoping it will become a self-fulfilling prophesy.

James Blake says the first time he played Roger Federer, and every time since, he was playing to win and thought he would win. Novak Djokovic admits that the first few times he played Federer he was playing to simply try and put up a good score, keep up with the Swiss, give him a good match and come off looking respectable. In Montreal a few weeks ago, when the Serb faced Federer, he told himself it was finally time to play to win, and logged his first victory over Federer.

On Saturday the American rookie sensation John Isner will go up against Federer, but until then, words will have to substitute for actions, and you’ll have to judge belief for yourself.

“If I go in that match not believing I’m gonna win, just happy to be out there, you know, he’s going to smell that, he’s going to smell that blood and just attack,” Isner said Wednesday night after advancing to the Federer meeting. “But I’m going to go out there and just play my game. Most importantly, have a lot of fun. I’m gonna believe. I’m not saying I’m gonna win, but I’m gonna believe. That’s what I have to do.”

Nervous double faults and slews of unforced errors usually mark rookie matches versus top players on show courts, but not so much for Isner, who has shown impressive nerve in tiebreaks through his run to the final at Washington (five consecutive third-set breaker wins) and his first two rounds at the US Open. If tiebreaks are the measure of a player’s nerve, then Isner has nerves of steel. And if Isner is going to take sets off Federer, they will more than likely be in tiebreaks.

Before his breakout run at Washington, Isner said he didn’t really watch pro tennis — except when Roger Federer was on TV. Even then he hadn’t dreamed of facing Federer one day. Now we’ll see what Isner picked up from those college days sitting in front of the tube with his Georgia tennis teammates, taking in the brilliance of the Swiss.

Once when Federer was asked how he would beat himself, he said he would do what few other players could, or were willing, to do against him — attack the net. Isner says he realizes his ground game isn’t in the same area code as Federer’s, so get ready on Saturday for an old-fashioned turn-back-the-clock net-crashing party.

“I’m gonna have to attack, try to get into the net, make the points shorter,” Isner said. “I’m not gonna — I know I can’t hang with him from the baseline. Hopefully hit my groundstrokes well and find the opportunities to get into the net, try to finish off points is what I’m gonna have to do.”

Isner finished his match Wednesday night before Federer, and did his post-match conference before the Swiss. When Federer did his post-match conference, U.S. journalists had very little interest in the match he just played against Chile’s Paul Capdeville. Federer discussed some of his difficulties against tall tour players such as Ivo Karlovic, and mentioned he had briefly seen Isner play — and inferred that tennis is more than a serve.

“It’s going to be interesting to see how good he is from the baseline,” Federer said. “I thought he hit the ball pretty well, but you never know until you face him.”

Federer faces Isner on Saturday, giving the USTA and host broadcasters more than two days to promote this thing like a heavyweight boxing match, the hottest American kid with the biggest serve in tennis against the No. 1 player and likely the greatest player ever. Promote this circus freak show on all U.S. networks — the 6-foot-8-1/2 kid against the Swiss army knife of tennis brilliance. Goliath against, uh, goliath.

Until (or if) Andy Roddick makes his quarterfinal date with Federer, this is the US Open’s big event on the men’s side. Tennis and non-tennis fans alike can be roped in to see just how far a seemingly-fearless kid who months ago was playing college tennis can go with an (on a good day) almost-unbreakable serve against the world’s best.

Bring the hype. Win or lose, American men’s tennis needs a kick in the ass, and this is it.

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28 Comments for US Open Blog: Isner Gives Himself a Shot Against Federer Saturday, Do You?

funches Says:

Against Nieminen, Isner’s groundstrokes were pathetic, but he showed impressive mental toughness to win the important points until Nieminen wilted.

In the brief USA Network coverage of tonight’s match, Isner showed some shockingly adept touch (including a sweet backhand half-volley lob from the baseline) and was able to keep the ball in the court on his groundies. But his serve, though monstrous, is not as good as Dr. Ivo’s when Karlovic is on, and he would not break Federer’s serve if they played for 10 hours.

This one will be a lot more lopsided than the 7-6, 6-2, 7-5 score will indicate.

Shital Green Says:

I am rooting for Isner, my homeboy. If he is able to win this one, he will be America’s hero for several days. If Isner will not, Djoko will silence the Fed Aryan fanatics, those runway from Pelican Bay Prison with Swastika tattoos on their forehead.

Kara L. Says:

This kid got routed by David Ferrer 6-7, 2-6, 2-6 in New Haven and got straight-setted by the same guy in Cincinnatti. If you compare Ferrer’s stats to Federer’s, you get the following:

Ferrer’s stats:
Points won returning first serve: 35%
Points won returning second serve: 58%
Return games won: 38%
Service games won: 78%
Second serve points won: 51%

Federer’s stats:
Points won returning first serve: 35%
Points won returning second serve: 52%
Return games won: 30%
Service games won: 88%
Second serve points won: 57%

Basically, a slight difference in their return games but Federer will hold better so he has more time to get into Isner’s service games. Against Karlovic, Federer has a 3-0 h2h advantage, losing only one set in the process.

Tony Says:

Isner will probably lose to Federer in straight sets, one tiebreak at most (or none). Instead of living in Isner’s Washington dream, we should also look at tournaments he has played since then. Isner lost to David Ferrer in Cincinnati (7-6 2-6 2-6) and again in New Haven (6-7 3-6). Isner also lost to Roddick in Washington (4-6 6-7). These experienced players have broken Isner’s serve, even with Roddick’s returning ability. Federer is a much better returner. If Federer decides to put on a show like he did last night, Isner will get a rude awakening. His inexperience will show, though he might occasionally benefit from partisan fan support.

Too much has been made about Novak Djokovic’s win over Federer in Montreal. The next time Federer plays Djokovic, he’ll probably beat him decisively. Even on an off-day in Montreal, Federer was within a few points of winning the Djokovic match, and indeed ended up winning more points overall. The Canadian tennis analysts had it right: Federer had somewhat of an off day in the final (he started off poorly and couldn’t get his engine running continuously); and Federer did not get the necessary rhythm from earlier opponents like Karlovic, Fognini and Stepanek (except for Hewitt) to get him match ready after his post-Wimbledon break. Regardless, Federer showed better general form in Montreal overall than he did in previous years in Canada after his break. Federer is probably more prepared and match-ready for this US Open than he has been in previous years, and it showed last night and it showed in the Cincinnati final against Blake. (Btw, in Montreal Federer became one-dimensional to cautiously beat Ivo Karlovic 7-6, 7-6 on an extremely windy day in his first match back after his break; against Isner on Saturday, Federer will not be as cautious in a best of five-set match).

Pete McCabe Says:

If I were a betting man I would back Isner to win this one.

He has the mental and physical ability to do so.

Let’s see anyway.

JDC Says:

We’ll have to wait to compare Ivo’s and Isner’s serve. That said, part of the comparison is how often the serve is “on”. The comparison shouldn’t include “when so-and-so is on”. If it does, you could say that, when you only consider Olivier Rochus’ aces, his serve is as good as anyone’s. Both Ivo and Isner have monster serves. Chances are, the comparison will come down to who is “on” more frequently. Don’t forget second serves, too … right now, Isner’s appears to be consistently harder than Ivo’s.

funches Says:

Ivo has been unbreakable for even Federer most of the times they’ve played. I think Federer has broken his serve once in their last three matches.

You’re right that I shouldn’t have used the phrase “when’s he’s on” because it’s subjective. To clarify, Ivo’s serve is on almost all the time. It went off in New Haven last week when he got sick from the heat and definitely was not on against Clement at the U.S. Open, when he got broken about five times, but that was an incredibly rare event.

Isner got broken four times in the final two sets by Ferrer recently. After watching him last night, I believe he will be better than Karlovic overall as he gains experience, but I can’t imagine his serve being as consistent.

JDC Says:

I agree with Ted Robinson’s comment last night: I would love to see Ivo and Isner play doubles together. In addition to the spectacle (and extra $$ for both), it would give Isner a chance to improve his net and return games.

jane Says:

It depends – if roger is wearing his tuxedo shorts, then there is no chance isner can take him. roger’s just too classy in that outfit. lol.

in all seriousness, no, isner can’t beat fed. but it’d be a spectacular upset if he did because the entire tournament would open up. who would win it with no roger and no rafa? (given that rafa’s apparently hobbled.)

FOT Says:

One thing Roger has going for him… He hasn’t lost to an American in over 30 matches… I can’t think of the exact number now (somewhere like 34 straight against Americans)… or whatever the number… but it’s high. Last time I checked – Isner was from America, right?

Shawn Says:

Sorry pal, your run has officially come to an end. I actually like Isner’s game, but unless Federer plays left handed or otherwise suffer internal injuries, Isner’s US Open campaign is over. It was an impressive run. I can see this guy claiming a few Wimby titles in a few years, his huge serve and volley game are comparable to another American that has since retires. Like his game, but even the best serve and volleyers can’t touch Federer on this stage. I’ll even go as far and say it may go 4 sets, but will probably be 3 and done. I’ll be watching.

JDC Says:

Isner has a better chance at winning the USO than Wimby. The USO hardcourts are faster than Wimby’s grass, and the balls bounce higher on the hardcourts than on grass (better for his serve to go over opponents and better to prevent him from having to bend for low balls).

awk Says:

A comment on the TV commentary by Ted Robinson and John McEnroe:

It is a shame having to listen to their verbal diarrhea during an entire match. They talk about everything but the match in progress. It’s terrible. It’s disrespectful to the players and to the viewers.

jane Says:

awk –

They’re especially disrespectful of players who aren’t named Roger. Even last night they went on-and-on about Fed before the match began, including discussing his outfit and his hair, until McEnroe said “is he playing somebody here?” and they jokingly introduced his opponent.

Typical and offensive, in my opinion.

missing agassi Says:

Isner will go down in three, but it would be great to see an American upset the number one at the US Open. However, I don’t see it happening. Feds is to deadly, experienced, and confident.

missing agassi Says:

I agree with you totally! John and whoever often get competely off the topic and the Feds worship gets old fast. I think Roger is an amazing player, however, he is not the only player…although it seems that way sometimes, doesn’t it? :-) I enjoy Courier, Cahill, and Gilbert. Gilbert also goes on and on, but at least goes on and on about the players that are actually on the court! Even if he is making fun…

penise Says:

Funny Fed’s “advice” to players to come to the net. He has gotten beat this year by players who can outsteady him from the baseline (Joker, canas (twice), that Italian guy), not net rushers.

Isner is definitely the underdog but watch out if he takes the first set, which he could. HE knows how to win mathces and the crowd will go nuts for him.

JDC Says:

I interpreted JMac’s comment as self-derogatory, making fun of Ted and himself because they had neglected the other player. They don’t just praise Federer; they frequently talk up Nadal and Djokovic. And, if JMac is going to praise a player and his/her shots repeatedly, it must be spectacular … considering John’s success and ego, he wouldn’t worship anyone’s play unless it is worthy.

missing agassi,
I, too, like Courier, Cahill and Gilbert. However, I do like JMac and Robinson. When Roger blows out an opponent, it’s hard for them to provide interesting match-pertinent comments for the entire match. It would too boring: “Fed hits another amazing winner. Fed his another amazing winner.”

JDC Says:

Fed will beat Isner in three sets. Until Isner’s complete game ripens, he will struggle against players who return serve well: Ferrer, Federer, Djok, Murray, etc. His victories (even over the top-tier players) have come against players whose return strategies are “do something special with the ball” and not “just get the ball in play”. Decent returns who settle for just putting the ball in play should beat Isner right now.

missing agassi Says:

You have a very good point. Feds does tend to make others look foolish and I’m sure that’s a challenge to the commentors. Take care

AAK Maverick Says:

AKA Maverick
I am with you on your comments posted August 30th, 2007 at 12:53 pm. I was appalled by the way Mr. John McEnroe and his television companion showed complete disregard to Mr. Roger Federer’s opponent. I am disappointed in Mr. John McEnroe, as I have always regarded him mature and sensible when commenting on television. Mr. John McEnroe, you know better than this. As regards, his companion that day, he is hopelessly poor in commentary anyway and do not expect more from him.
Now as for Mr. John Isner winning his match against Mr. Federer. This will not happen. All Mr. Federer has to do is return his serve, and Mr. John Isner will not know what to do with the return. Having said this, I have noticed minor improvements in Mr. John Isner’s game, since his win in Washington. But such improvements will not win him the match against Mr. Federer. If by any fluke Mr. Isner wins against Federer, than good on him. He will cherish this moment for a long time and of course our media will go crazy.

Mr. Isner has to work much harder in the years to come to make any long term impact in men’s professional tennis. I hear that Mr. Isner is very much in the good books of Mr. James Blake and Mr. Andy Roddick. I wish Mr. Blake and Mr. Roddick take him and Mr. Sam Querry under their wings. Be careful Mr. Roddick, do not tell Mr. Isner and Mr. Querry that tennis is all about service, as I am sure you realize by now. I wish Mr. Isner all my best. Good luck Mr. Isner

jane Says:

JDC – I agree with you that Mac’s comment was self-deprectating, but that still doesn’t excuse their lack of talk about opponents. Sure they talk up Nadal and Djok, but rarely to the degree of Federer. For instance, in the French Open final, Mac spent more time lamenting what Fed wasn’t doing than commenting on what Rafa *was* doing, in the process completely over-looking some tremendous plays.

AND PLEASE TENNIS COMMENTATORS EVERYWHERE – do not flash Federer/Tiger Woods stats at me anymore!! I know them by heart! Stick to tennis stats and history.

funches Says:

Whoever wrote Isner’s game was reminiscent of Sampras, you should ban yourself permanently from posting here or actually watch a minute of any of Pete’s career footage. He was by far the best player in the world FROM THE BASELINE on hard courts for several years. His serve was huge, but his running forehand was just as devastating. Isner can’t get hit five shots between the white lines without missing even when he’s pushing the ball.

Daniel Says:

Jane, in the beginning of RG final 2007, Rafa was doing nothing, but putting the ball high in Fed’s backhand. Yes, it was a strategy, but seems to me Rafa was afraid of Federer since Hamburgo final. When Federer did not take his chances, 11 Break points, Nadal start to believe in him again and then, he never looked back.

The last two sets he played were the best ones I saw him play in Roland Garros. He gave Fed no chance, comparing to 2006 final when Nadal serve for the match, and was broken by Federer going to tie break. That was Federer big chance in RG, but Nadal came trougth and win it.

For me, until today that was the match that Federer never should’ve lost.
I hope he same day win RG, but to win against Nadal with the confidence he gets there now, will be very hard.

AKA Maverick Says:


AKA Maverick

John Isner vs Federer

This match will be very easy for Federer. Federer took on big servers in their prime days like Pete Sampras, Andy Roddick and did them good. John Isner is not even near the above two. So for us, US tennis fans, like it or not, Roger Federer will beat him easily.

It will take Federer few games to check Isner out. He may lose the few games or the first set, but that is all what good will happen to Isner. If Federer is first to serve, Isner will be on added pressure.

Also think about it, if you are a rookie player, with all the hype and support behind you, going into a match that might turn your career somewhat, is a lot of pressure.

When Isner sees one of the best players, if not the best player in the world, readying himself in front of him, believe me reality will sink in. Isner will than psychologically force play for others i.e., the media hype and US public and hence will win few games or maybe a set but unfortunate though this maybe, this is all he will get from Federer. Good Luck Mr. Isner

Tennis Fan Says:

If Karlovic and Isner are the future of tennis – I will no longer be following the game. The game of tennis is meant to be more than just a big serve … if the Americans ever figure that out … they have a chance of developing another competitive player again some day. … maybe they should put in some clay courts …where the serve just doesn’t really matter any more. Many of the world’s best players grew on on clay.

jane Says:

Tennis Fan – did you see Donald Young against Lopez today? He is an American with a good all-round game – a good serve, solid off both sides, some touch at the net, and fast. I think he is the young American to keep our eyes on.

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