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Isner tops Harrison in an All-American thriller in Paris

May 31, 2013 04:23 PM
With his victory over Ryan Harrison, John Isner moved into the third round of the French Open for the first time since 2010.
By Matt Cronin, special to USTA.com
PARIS – John Isner’s 2012 journey at the Grand Slams was a struggle. In fact, the way he lost matches caused his stomach to curdle.
That's why his 5-7, 6-7(7), 6-3, 6-1, 8-6 victory over fellow American Ryan Harrison in the second round of Roland Garros meant so much.
All four of Isner’s losses in the 2012 Grand Slams were in five sets. In Australia he fell to Feliciano Lopez. In France he went down to Paul-Henri Mathieu. At Wimbledon he was defeated by Alejandro Falla. And at the US Open he lost to Philip Kohlschreiber in a match that ended at 2:26 a.m., tied for the latest finish in tournament history.
"It’s bad," he said in New York. "Terrible. It’s not good at all."
Isner felt quite the opposite Friday after he gutted out his three-hour-and-50-minute win over the 21-year-old Harrison, who went toe to toe with him throughout the match. He even had a good look at a passing shot to go up a break in the fifth set but saw it hit the top of the net and fall backward. 
"I came this close, and we're talking a backhand cross court and a tape, from being up in the fifth and then I like my chances at that spot," Harrison said. "That 20-minute span, I'm not a better or worse player by the last 20 minutes I played. You keep fighting and giving yourself those opportunities. The more opportunities that you have, the more chances for success you have."
From there, Isner began to have increasing success on Harrison’s serve. He finally broke the young American on his 10th break point of the set, before capably closing the match out, without any jitters.
"Just winning a five-set match is extremely satisfying, as I'd exited every Grand Slam last year in five sets. Every single one," said Isner. "I played well in 2012, but that really was a tough pill to swallow for me, to, lose in five sets and every single Slam last year. This one helps, and I really do think it will help me going forward, because certainly [I] will be in some more five-set matches."
Isner’s good friend and double partner, Sam Querrey, was unable to match Isner’s feat, however, as France’s Gilles Simon turned the match on its head in the fourth set and came through, 2-6, 6-3, 2-6, 7-6(2) 6-2. 
Another American, Varvara Lepchenko, also lost a marathon three setter, falling to eighth seed Angelique Kerber, 6-4, 6-7(3), 6-4. Top-seed Serena Williams, however, skated through over Sorana Cirstea, 6-0, 6-2.
In his five-set loss to Mathieu in Paris last year, Isner got down on himself and was never able to make a mental push in the fifth set. At times in that match, he appeared distracted, perhaps not believing her could pull off the win. 
But against the 21-year-old Harrison, he kept his chin up and fought through the finish.
"What I did exceptionally well, more than serving, my forehand, everything else, was I just stayed composed and just told myself if I'm going to lose I'm going to want him to beat me and not beat myself," Isner said. "I got up pretty quick in that third set and he gave me some momentum, and I really knew it was anybody's match."
Isner has had a slow start to the year, largely due to an injured knee sugffered during the offseason. But he’s fit now and says he’s been working hard in the gym. He’s also been eating healthier and says he dropped a couple of pounds. 
The North Carolina native will need to be in tip top shape. Due to rain delays, he plays again Saturday against 12th seed Tommy Haas, who took down another young American, Jack Sock, 7-6(3) 6-2 7-5, in a tight contest that demonstrated how close the 2011 US Open mixed doubles champion is to breaking through in a Grand Slam event.
Isner has a 3-2 record versus the German, but Haas – who lives in Florida with his American fiancée, actress Sara Foster – has had a standout year and is not only powerful, but also very smart.
The 28-year-old Isner said that he will be more than prepared, and with a five-set win under his belt, he is sure to be more confident if the proceedings grow long again.
"I had three days off prior to this match when I really didn't need it at all," he said. "I could have easily played the next day after my first match. But you can't control that. I'll do everything I can to get myself ready, and I will be ready. There are no excuses tomorrow. I'm going to feel fine."
To learn more about up-and-coming U.S. players and to receive the latest US Open news and information, as well as exclusive merchandise offers to the US Open Shop, sign up to become a US Open Insider.  
And for more Pro Tennis coverage, including coverage of Americans at the 2013 French Open, go to the USTA.com Pro Tennis page. 


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