Isner starts strong
for U.S. in Davis Cup quarterfinal
Arthur Kapetanakis | April 6, 2018
NASHVILLE, Tenn. – The U.S. came into Nashville as heavy favorites for their World Group quarterfinal against Belgium, and according to the ATP World Rankings, John Isner's tie-opening match against world No. 319 Joris De Loore was the biggest mismatch of the weekend.
But on Friday, at Belmont University's Curb Event Center, the Belgian showed the fighting spirit that Davis Cup so often brings out and proved he belonged in a three-hour, 14-minute thriller.
De Loore put a scare into the world No. 9 and the Nashville crowd, as he won a second-set tiebreak and led by a break in set three before Isner regained control in a 6-3, 6-7, 7-6, 6-4 victory.
The win stakes the Americans an early 1-0 lead in what is a race to three over the course of the weekend, with American No. 2 Sam Querrey set to face Ruben Bemelmans, Belgium's top gun, in Friday's nightcap. ADVERTISEMENT
For much of the night, Isner's booming serve earned him easy points, but the American had to rely on his red-hot ground game when he served to open the match.
The vocal crowd was treated to an early display of shotmaking, as Isner used all of his 6-foot-10 frame to whip a forehand winner from outside the doubles alley on just the second point. The North Carolina native followed that up with a pinpoint down-the-line backhand pass to bring the American fans to their feet.
"The crowd was energized right from the get-go," he said. "They were awesome out there today."
Returning up 3-2, Isner repelled a pair of De Loore approaches from 30-all with dipping backhands that forced the Belgian into difficult half-volleys, the second of which he could only steer wide to give Isner an early break.
At 5-3, Isner made no mistake in serving for the set, firing three consecutive aces to seal the 29-minute opener as he carried his scintillating Miami form into the Music City.
In set two, Isner created a break point at 2-2, only to miss a shoestring volley when he had De Loore on the ropes.
It was De Loore's turn to threaten in the tenth game of the set, and the Belgian found himself two points from levelling the match when he created a 0-30 opening. Isner would rise to the occasion, using three aces and a sharp-angled forehand winner to bail himself out.
In the tiebreak, the two traded early mini-breaks, with each missing mid-court sitters as some nerves started to creep in.
After a rocket return winner by Isner, De Loorer responded by taking two points on the American's serve for a 4-3 lead.
With Isner serving at 4-5, De Loore again zeroed in on two strong returns to even the match at one set apiece.
With renewed confidence, the Belgian continued to challenge the Isner serve in set three. Despite two Isner aces in the first game of the set, De Loore was able to break to pull ahead.
"He started playing very well, making it tough on me. But I knew that was a possibility," said Isner.
"The rankings do not really matter in an event like this, where you're playing for your country."
Suddenly, De Loore was in control, with Isner offering little resistance on the Belgian's serve. De Loore created another break point at 4-2, but Isner battled through to stay within touching distance.
That escape seemed to shift the momentum back, as Isner broke in the following game, dropping just one point to get back on serve.
With the crowd firmly behind him, Isner created two 0-30 openings, returning at 5-4 and 6-5, but both times the Belgian fought back to hold, forcing a tiebreak.
De Loore got in front early in the breaker with an inch-perfect topspin lob, but Isner clawed back the mini-break and took a 5-4 lead after two unreturned serves.
It was a see-saw battle from there, with each player saving multiple set points behind strong serving. Finally, Isner got into a rally on the Belgian's serve, and De Loore dumped a backhand into the net to give Isner the tiebreak, 10-8.
Armed with a two-sets-to-one lead, the American won a 10-point game on his opponent's second service game of set four to secure the decisive break. On his sixth match point, a backhand winner clinched the victory for Team USA.
"It's big, absolutely. The first match is critical" said Isner. "I'm very happy that I was able to do my party to put our team up."
To continue to follow this Davis Cup quarterfinal tie, tune in to Tennis Channel for live daily coverage.
After Querrey takes the court next, play begins again at 4 p.m. local time (5 p.m. ET) on and Saturday, April 7, and at 2 p.m. local time (3 p.m. ET) on Sunday, April 8.