Isner clinches quarterfinal series against France.
© Ron C. Angle
© Ron C. Angle
U.S. Davis Cup Captain Jim Courier congratulates John Isner on his victory.
© Ron C. Angle
By Erin Bruehl, USTA.com
ROQUEBRUNE-CAP-MARTIN, France – John Isner woke up Friday morning and had a good feeling about his match later that day.
He had been ready to play the second singles match of the U.S. vs. France Davis Cup Quarterfinal against Gilles Simon since practice Wednesday, getting antsy to take the court and looking forward to playing with confidence and doing his part to represent his country well and help the U.S. win.
When the day finally arrived, he did not know if he was going to win or lose, but he knew he was ready to play with the same confidence that he has been playing with since the middle of last year, which has carried him to wins over Roger Federer in the U.S.’s first round win over Switzerland and over Novak Djokovic in Indian Wells, amongst other important victories.
And his confidence was on display from the first point as he dominated early and for most of the match, using an exceptional forehand, his usually strong serve and his tremendous wingspan to play good defense and defeat Simon 6-3, 6-2, 7-5 and to level the U.S. vs. France Davis Cup Quarterfinal at 1-1 after the first day of play at the Monte Carlo Country Club.
The U.S. was down 0-1 after the opening match, when Jo-Wilfried Tsonga defeated Ryan Harrison 7-5, 6-2, 2-6, 6-2 for the early French lead. It was Harrison’s first career live Davis Cup match.
"I felt great out there today. I took the court very confident. To me, no matter who I was going to play today, I was going to feel confident no matter what. So that was the case today," Isner said. "I went out there and I played very well, simple as that. I was very happy with how I played and I am happy that I was able to help the team out.
Isner, the world No. 11, came out firing against Simon, the world No. 13, using the power on his serve and smoking shots off both sides to take control of the match from the start. He had a game plan, formulated with U.S. Davis Cup Captain Jim Courier, to use his overpowering forehand to its full potential. And he executed the plan – and the shot – to near perfection.
He broke once in the opening set and was even more dominant on his serve in the second, losing just three points on his serve for the entire set.
Simon stepped up his level of play in the third, returning better with the good defense he is known for, putting the most pressure on Isner’s service games that he had all match.
In the third, Isner was in trouble on his serve for the first time in the match in the sixth game when he double faulted to give Simon a break point chance. But Simon netted a backhand to bring the game to deuce. One more deuce later, Simon hit a backhand just wide to give Isner the advantage and he held on when Simon hit a return into the net.
He fought back another break point chance in the eighth game, using that wingspan from his 6-foot-9-inch frame to catch a few potential passing shots at deuce, and two points later it was 4-all.
The third set turned then at 5-all when Isner hit a forehand volley winner for a break chance and the next point was arguably the biggest and best of the match. Isner again used that wingspan to fight off several passing shots attempts from Simon at net but the Frenchman was unable to push them past him. Instead Isner responded on one with a backhand volley pass for a 6-5 lead and his first break of the set to allow him to serve for the set the next game.
"That was one of the crazier points I have won and to do it on such a big point (was important)," Isner said. "Essentially it was a match point. If I win that, I am able to serve for the match. I was fortunate to win that point and it was very, very crazy. It went my way and I am glad it did."
And Isner did just that, holding a love and tying the score for the U.S. with a forehand passing shot. He finished the match without being broken once and had 53 winners to just 15 for Simon.
"I could have made more first serves but my forehand was on and I was going for it," Isner said of his game Friday. "I wasn’t holding back. I was going for it and a lot of them found the right spot for me so I was very pleased with how I hit that shot."
The first match was pretty evenly played featuring solid all-court play between Tsonga, the world No. 6, and Harrison, the world No. 66. But the difference Friday was Tsonga’s ability to play better on the important points and to not let opportunities slide away.
"I think one thing I didn't do very well is I didn't play as aggressively on some of the breakpoints as I would have liked to, and he did," Harrison said. "It's a fractional match, but the fractions go his way whenever he does the right things."
Harrison broke early in the first set to go up 2-1 but Tsonga immediately responded with a break of his own. In the next game, Harrison had a break point chance to take the lead again but did not hit a good enough drop shot, which Tsonga was able to grab for a passing shot and he went on to hold.
In what turned into the final game of the first set, Harrison was up 40-30 on his serve but was unable to hold the lead. On his second break point chance, Tsonga converted with a backhand volley winner to break and win the first set despite many of his own errors.
Harrison had more chances in the second set, with two break point chances to go up 2-1, as the two engaged in many long rallies but it was Tsonga who came out on top.
In the next game, Harrison double faulted on Tsonga’s third break point chance to give him the game and a 3-1 lead, breaking his second racquet in frustration. Double faults were a problem for Harrison in the match, as the 19-year-old had 10 to go with six aces on his powerful serve.
He was able to convert just four of 13 break point chances, compared to seven of 13 for Tsonga, who struggled with errors himself in the match as he went for big shots, hitting 53 unforced errors to 60 winners.
Tsonga closed out the second with another break but Harrison came out firing aggressively in the third, breaking in the opening game – his first break since the first set – and again in the third. Harrison broke in the third game after an overturned in call from the chair umpire that gave Harrison a break point chance and he won the game when Tsonga then hit a forehand into the net, which was one of many errors for the Frenchman to open the third.
Courier had spoken with Harrison before the third set about being more aggressive in general, including on second serve returns to put more pressure on Tsonga’s serve, which he did very well.
"We both felt in the second set he mentioned, I agreed with him that my balls were landing a little bit short. He started to play the match on his terms," Harrison said of himself and Courier. "He just said, ‘Look, even if you miss a couple balls, if you start playing the right way, more aggressively, you're going to put some more pressure on him and you're going to get some errors ultimately.’"
The third set started with four breaks in five service games and Harrison pushed it to the fourth for a 6-2 set win when Tsonga hit a volley again into the net as he played the important points better than Tsonga throughout the set.
But Tsonga showed his experience why he has been a great Davis Cup player in his career in the fourth, regrouping to bring his top game with strong serving and take the lead 2-0 with an overhand winner and never trailed again, closing out the match with a break when Harrison hit a backhand into the net.
"Even though we both missed some balls and both played some bad points at times, whenever he got breakpoint, he big points, he made me play," Harrison said. "That was why it went to his favor early, and to my favor in the third because I did that better than he did. The fourth set, I felt like we were at a high intensity level, high level. He was, unfortunately, able to play a little better than me at the end."
For the score, Courier and the U.S. are happy with a 1-1 tie, knowing the world No. 1 doubles team of Bob and Mike Bryan will take the court Saturday against world No. 5 doubles player Michael Llodra and Julien Benneteau in what should be a good match between four experienced players.
Courier, however, has been impressed with Harrison and is only looking forward to how great he is going to continue to become in his game.
"The first match was a tricky one for Ryan and for Jo. I thought both of them played a little bit underneath their capabilities. I expect both of them to play better on Sunday," Courier said of Harrison and Tsonga. "I think he (Harrison) is an unpolished diamond. There is a lot to work on to get better and he already is as good as he is. To play Gilles (Sunday) will be a big challenge because we did not get to see him play very much today because this guy (Isner) did what he is supposed to do, which is to be emphatic dominant and take the racquet out of the hand of his opponent.
"For us, 1-1, that is what it is. I think we are content with that. We would love to be up 2-0, we would hate to be down 0-2, so 1-1 seems about right and tomorrow will be a great doubles match between four great doubles players," he added.
The doubles rubber is scheduled for 2 p.m. local time (8 a.m. ET) Saturday and will be broadcast live on Tennis Channel and will be streamed live for U.S. residents on USTA.com. On Sunday, Isner and Tsonga will play the fourth singles match and Harrison and Simon are scheduled to play the final match.