What an incredible afternoon for John Isner. The giant became the first American since James Blake at the Beijing Olympics to beat a world No. 1. Isner accomplished the feat stunning Novak Djokovic 76, 36, 76 to advance to the BNP Parisbas Open final at Indian Wells.
“I knew going into the match that I had to stay loose and go for my shots,” Isner said. “Also knew going into the match that I was going to make a lot of mistakes, but I also knew I was gonna hit some winners. As long as I was playing aggressively through the whole match, whether I win or lose, I was going to be happy with the result.
“The first set was really key, because, you know, he came out and got on top of me early,” he added. “And winning that first set tiebreaker, I knew that I was firmly in the match. At that point I believed I could win the match, but at that point it was within my reach.”
Isner’s serve clearly frustrated Djokovic who is among the better returners in the game. And that’s what John was hoping to do.
“I have the ability to frustrate my opponents no matter who I’m playing, so I knew that going into the match,” Isner said. “I also knew going into today playing against him that he was gonna get balls that in most cases would be good for winners against other players. So I sort of expected it, but he definitely had some shots today that are like, Oh, wow. How the heck did he do that? I knew what to expect today. Fortunately for me I played very well.”
Djokovic had won 11 straight at Indian Wells where he was defending his 2011 title. It was just the second loss on the season for the Serb and first to Isner in three matches.
The win also vaulted Isner to at least a career-high ranking of No. 10, and he’ll climb even higher to No. 8 if he wins the title.
“After a certain point I think when I reached in the top 50 in the world that’s actually when I actually did believe I could crack the top 10,” the 26-year-old said. “But I’ve just kept on improving. I’ve always been a late bloomer.
“I feel like my best tennis is still ahead of me. And I would also say I don’t quite have the miles on my body that a lot of other players have because I haven’t been out here since I was 17 or 18. I did surprise myself, but now that I am inside the top 10, I feel like I do belong there. I want to try my best to, you know, stay in the top 10 for a while.”
Isner awaits the rain-delayed Roger Federer-Rafael Nadal winner tomorrow. Isner beat Federer last month at Davis Cup and he extended Nadal to five sets at the French Open last year. So John is in with a chance.
“I expect a hell of a match. Both guys are at the top of the game right now, I believe,” said Isner looking ahead to Sunday. “Roger, since I did beat him, he has not lost. He’s won 14, 15 matches in a row, whatever it may be. He’s obviously playing well. And then there is Rafa who is always at these stages of a tournament. So it’s gonna be a very good match. It’s one that I look forward to watching.”
In his first Masters 1000 final, Isner will be going for his fourth ATP singles title, and his first since Winston-Salem last August. He has a 3-5 record in tour-level finals. Isner will also play for the doubles title later today when he and Sam Querrey face off against Nadal and Marc Lopez.
“Not many people can say they’ve ever beaten the No. 1 player in the world,” Isner said, “I’ll always be able to say that. I don’t think it’s the prize money. It’s just so fun to compete out there. I’m gonna have another shot tomorrow to play in front of a packed house for a big tournament title.”
Congrats to Big Dog John!
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