Last month US captain Jim Courier said it best calling John Isner “the most destructive force in tennis.” This weekend Courier’s word rang true, again. With arguably the best one-two punch (serve/forehand) in tennis, Isner piloted team USA to another astonishing road upset defeating a deep, veteran French team 3-2 in the Davis Cup quarterfinals in Monte Carlo.
France, like Switzerland before them in February, put the US and Isner on red clay and the strategy backfired badly. France’s best claycourter, Gael Monfils, bowed out because of injury leaving Gilles Simon, who can hardly break an egg on a hardcourt with his power, and JW Tsonga, a power player more at home on faster terrain than on the dirt.
The 6-foot-9 Isner’s booming serves pierce any surface while the clay affords Big John more time to be offensive on his groundstrokes. And when he’s serving on song he can go for his forehand that much more. The result, Isner lost one single set in weekend wins over Simon and today in the clincher Tsonga, who he beat earlier today 6-3, 7-6(4), 5-7, 6-3.
“He just played well and I wasn’t in good shape,” Tsonga said. “John was just better than me and he played the important points pretty well. When you play like that, serve like that, you can play everywhere, so I was not surprised he played well on clay.”
Consider, in his last four matches on red clay Isner pushed Rafael Nadal to five sets at the French Open, beat Roger Federer and he now adds two more impressive scalps with Simon and Tsonga.
“I like playing on clay,” Isner said who fired 16 aces to go along with 56 winners. “I played three of the best matches I have all year on clay. So it’s a surface that I enjoy playing on, a surface that I think I can do very well on.
“If I can keep this level up, I’m going to be tough to beat. So, yeah, like I played this weekend, that’s how I need to play.”
Has he become a legitimate clay threat? We’ll see. He’ll begin his clay tournament swing later this week in Houston before returning to Europe for the real competition. It should be fun to watch.
The US now moves on to play at Spain in September in another road tie on red clay. Will Rafael Nadal, who has sat out the first two rounds, be available for the semifinals? And after a long, busy summer slog will Nadal and/or Isner even be healthy enough for battle?
Regardless, Courier and co. can’t wait.
“We’ve had the worst draw that you could possibly imagine so are far,” said Courier. “I’m shocked we’re still in the Davis Cup this year. Honestly at the beginning of the year, it was my hope we would be able to stay in the World Group.
“Switzerland away, you think you probably lose that match,” he added. “Here, away, we probably lose this one as well. Spain, we probably lose it on paper, but we don’t play on paper. We have to play it out here. We’ve got players that are capable and that are passionate and hungry. We know we’re definitely going to be the underdog once again, but we’ll be ready to play.”
In the other semifinal, the Czech Republic’s reward for a testy win over a Novak-less Serbian team is a trip to Argentina. Juan Martin Del Potro closed it out for the Argies today beating Marin Cilic and Croatia 4-1.
Happy Easter everyone!
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