Unseeded American John Isner’s hot hardcourt summer continued on Friday at the Western & Southern Open in Cincinnati where he out-served world No. 1 Novak Djokovic 7-6(5), 3-6, 7-5 in quarterfinal play.
“I really feel like the crowd in both matches really, really helped me out,” said Isner of defeating Djokovic Friday, and last year at Indian Wells. “It was just so much fun to play out there. It’s one of the reasons why I work so hard to be able to be in a situation like that and to sort of enjoy it.”
Djokovic double faulted serving at 5-6 in the third to set up match point, which saw Isner complete the upset.
“In some important moments some double faults, and that’s the way it is,” Djokovic said. “These conditions here, very fast, and it’s very difficult to return. I mean, you can see he didn’t give me second serves in the third set.”
Djokovic has just one title in Monte Carlo in the last five months and he’ll fall further behind frontrunner Nadal in the year-end race for No. 1.
Isner will Saturday in the semifinals meet Juan Martin del Potro, two weeks after their meeting in the Washington final which the Argentine won in three sets. Del Potro in his quarterfinal defeated Dmitry Tursunov 6-4, 3-6, 6-1.
“I feel like I’m a bit fresher now than I was then, as I was coming off back-to-back events at that time. But he was certainly the better player,” Isner said.
The other semifinal will see upset-maker Tomas Berdych squaring off against Rafael Nadal.
Berdych stopped reigning Wimbledon champion Andy Murray, who complained of the quick conditions in Cincinnati, 6-3, 6-4.
“The court was lively today,” said Murray, a two-time former champ in Cincy. “It was bouncing pretty high. It was quite tough to control the ball…You have tactics for each player and sometimes executing the tactics is tough. That can be down to the way that your opponent plays. Sometimes it’s the way that he plays. Sometimes it can be the conditions. You need to make adjustments.”
Nadal in the final men’s night match Friday defeated Roger Federer in a contest meeting the expectations of the rivalry 5-7, 6-4, 6-3. Federer, who had struggled so mightily this summer with his game and his back, showed off some strong form early but couldn’t keep it up against the relentless Nadal. And the Swiss missed a chance to extend the match when Nadal’s winner on matchpoint was shown to be out on the replay, but Federer didn’t challenge.
“I’m happy with my progress along the way,” Federer said. “Could have won tonight, should have won tonight, who knows? But at the end, I think Rafa’s confidence and the way he’s playing at the moment got him through. So for me, I think it was a good step in the right direction.”
Nadal is now 21-10 against Federer and the win gives him a 7-6 edge over his rival on hardcourts. And the win keeps Rafa perfect on the cement at 13-0 this season.
“I think my movement starts to be better, more intensity,” Nadal said. “I started to put more balls inside on the return, and I started to have more times control of the ball from the baseline with my forehand, something that didn’t happen the first set and a half.
“But the match was there. It was very close. He had a good chance in the second. I think I played a good few points in important moments.”
The loss will drop Federer down to No. 7 in the Monday rankings while Nadal eyes a return to No. 2 if he wins on Sunday.
In women’s quarterfinal play, world No. 1 Serena Williams blew out Romanian Simona Halep in the first set then hung on 6-0, 6-4 to set up a meeting with defending champ Li Na, who advanced into the semis when opponent Agnieszka Radwanska pulled out of the event to attend a family funeral.
“I definitely haven’t felt good all week, so I’m surprised I’m still in the tournament to be honest,” said Serena who has never won the Cincinnati title. “The first set I thought I played really well. I was actually surprised I made some of those shots, because I really don’t remember looking at the ball. I could have sworn I was catching it late, and I was like, ‘How did that go in?’ But overall that was just a really good set for me.
“Things are here. At the end it’s not really about how you play, it’s about being able to win, whether you’re playing well or not. So far I’ve been able to be in the semifinals. So considering, it’s a good result. I obviously want to do better this week, and I’ll just have to see how it goes.
“I’m still alive, and that’s what matters.”
In the other semifinal No. 14 and former champion Jelena Jankovic, who had an equally-easy time with No. 12 Roberta Vinci 6-0, 6-4, will meet No. 2 Victoria Azarenka who was a late winner over Caroline Wozniacki.
CENTER COURT start 1:00 pm
J Isner (USA) vs  J Del Potro (ARG) – ATP
Not Before 2:30 PM
 R Nadal (ESP) vs  T Berdych (CZE) – ATP
Not Before 7:00 PM
 S Williams (USA) vs  N Li (CHN) – WTA
 J Jankovic (SRB) vs  C Wozniacki (DEN) or  V Azarenka (BLR) – WTA
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Serena Gags, Nadal Raises Cincinnati Titles