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San Jose Final; Memphis: A New World for Isner?

Does he have momentum to go to the next level?


February 19, 2012 | 06:57 PM

Milos RAONIC defended his San Jose title, defeating Denis Istomin 7-6 (3), 6-2. In two years, there's won almost every tie-breaker he's played - and there have been A LOT.

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For John ISNER, SAN JOSE will be the first time he begins a 500 level event as the #1 seed, meaning now no one can say they want to see him in their bracket. People have been saying that about Isner almost since he began on the tour in '07 after college.

WHY?

After he turned pro in June '07 and upset #12 Tommy Haas in the semis to reach the final of his first ATP tour level event, the reason was obvious: FEAR.

He had served 144 aces in 6 matches.

The fear grew within weeks, as he took a set from Ferrer (then #15) in New Haven, and won 2 rounds at The Open beating #26 Nieminen in 4 sets with 3 tie-breakers (serving 36 aces), and took a set from FEDERER in the 3rd round. He was VERY big and his serve came very fast from a height people didn't like and bounced to heights people weren't used to climbing, unless they'd played Ivo a few times too many. But after his brilliant debut in '07, his results slipped and it became apparent he didn't have a lot more game than Ivo to back up his serve, and the fear subsided for a while. He didn't have a chance to play anyone in the top 100 until 2008, and his record in tour level events in '08 was 11 and 19.

By some time in '09 he had backed his serve up with better conditioning and honed his movement to create a forehand weapon that he could use from anywhere in the court. When in late '09 his ranking climbed high enough (inside the top 35) that he began to make regular appearances in 1000 level tournies where he might become a more regular threat to top 20 players, in theory. BUT WAS HE?

NO:

- John's overall winning percentage was about the same in each of the three years '09 to '11: 60%.

- John's record vs. top 20 players before 2010 and over the last 2 years don't confirm he's improved:

- from 7/07 to 12/09, he had 6 wins and 15 losses vs. Top 20 players (40%)

- from 1/10 to 2/12, he had 8 wins and 20 losses vs. Top 20 players (40%)

- John's record vs. top 10 players shows that of the 14 career wins over Top 20, only 5 wins were over top 10 players before 2012. Three of these wins were in '09 (over Monfils, Tsonga and Roddick). Last year he had only one win over a top 10 player, #5 Ferrer indoors in Paris in November. On the heels of that quarterfinal win and reaching the semis of a 1000 level tournament, it is easy to understand why beating Federer in Davis Cup this month is such a big deal: with two big W's in important events within a few months of each other, he is sensing some momentum and upward mobility.

What does this mean for ISNER's opportunity in Memphis?

- John has an excellent chance to add points to his low YTD total of 140 (placing him only #46 in the Race).

- Were John to win Memphis, the 500 points would make him #8 in The Race before Dubai (where he is not entered).

- He won't lose any rankings points because he lost in the first round last year (to Del Potro).

Never-the-less, this will be the first time he's faced the pressure of being #1 at such a high level event. The entry list reads like a Who's Who of American tennis, and includes a lot of young guys who'd like to knock him off.

In his quarter in MEMPHIS, John could see any of these:

- Dmitrov, Muller, Young, Melzer, Istomin, Dodig and #8 seed TOMIC.

In his half he could see:

- #3 seed Stepanek, Blake, Sweeting, Querrey, Falla and #7 seed Anderson

In the other half lurk WC's Harrison and Sock (playing each other in the 1st round), along with seeds RODDICK (#2) RAONIC (#4), BOGOMOLOV (#5) AND BENNETEAU (#6).

ISNER is about to face an important test. If he moves this through this hungry draw, he will be ready to take on Big Game at Indian Wells and Miami next month.

Rick

ATP 2.19.12 San Jose Result; Memphis


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