By Sandra Harwitt
It hardly seems possible but the week has gone by so fast that we’re down to the big Saturday show -- the semifinals of the men’s and women’s competition here at the Western & Southern Open.
The good news for local fans is that they will have a couple of American singles players still in action.
In the men’s quarterfinals, unseeded John Isner upset world No. 1 Novak Djokovic 7-6, 3-6, 7-5 on Friday. Isner now moves on to face seventh-seeded Juan Martin del Potro, who defeated qualifier Dimitry Tursunov 6-4, 3-6, 6-1, in the semifinals. Isner’s defeat of Djokovic prevented the world’s best player from attaining an historic milestone -- if he had won the title at the Western & Southern Open this year he would’ve been the only player to win all nine Masters Series 1000 tournaments at least once in their career. But not to despair, Novak, there’s always next year to claim that feat.
In the women’s quarterfinals, world No. 1 Serena Williams had little trouble bypassing Simona Halep 6-0, 6-4 to book her semifinal appointment against fifth-seeded Li Na. Li received a walkover into the semifinals when Agnieszka Radwanska withdrew from their semifinal to go home for her grandfathers’ funeral.
So let’s chat about Isner, a 28-year-old who is guaranteed to move back into the top 20 in Monday’s Emirates ATP rankings.
Some might think that this is the first time that Isner’s found success against Djokovic, but they would be wrong. While Djokovic has won three of their four outings, Isner won their 2012 semifinal encounter at the ATP Masters 1000 Indian Wells.
Isner remembers his Indian Wells victory and compared it to his win on Friday: "It’s very similar," Isner said. "I guess the only real difference is this was the quarterfinals; that was a semifinals. Both matches extremely close, and I really feel like the crowd in both matches really, really helped me out. 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."
All that said, Isner is a rationale kind of guy and while very pleased with the quarterfinal win he understands that in the big picture, Djokovic can run circles around him.
"Look for me to beat Novak or any of the guys that are at the top of the game I’m going to have to play very, very solid, Isner said. "I’ve only beaten him once before, and even that, I think, is a pretty good achievement. He’s the No. 1 player in the world. Simply put, he’s a better tennis player than men. He just is. His record proves that."
Isner’s played in Cincinnati six times and this marks the first time he’s reached the semifinals. In fact, Friday was the first time the native North Carolinian has reached the Western & Southern Open quarterfinals.
So how great did Isner, at No. 22 in the world the top ranked American player, feel after his victory today? Well, that would be pretty darn fabulous.
"It was a fantastic win for me," he said, smiling. "Certainly one of my greatest memories as a tennis player. So it’s a great win. I’m very happy."
Isner is having a big-time summer. He won the Atlanta title and reached the Washington final, where he lost to his next opponent here -- that’s right, Juan Martin del Potro. Now we’ll have to wait until tomorrow to see if Isner reaches his third final of the U.S. Open Series this summer.
And surely he would like to follow in fellow American Mardy Fish’s footsteps. Fish was a finalist here twice and both times was an unseeded finalist.
In contrast to Isner, fellow American Serena Williams comes by her semifinal berth as expected. She is the top player in the world, after all. Yet, she’s struggled to get to Saturday, being pushed to three sets in her opening match by qualifier Eugenie Bouchard, just one year out of the juniors.
She fared better against Mona Barthel in the round-of-16 but even during that Thursday match didn’t appear solid and totally confident.
"I definitely haven’t felt good all week, so surprised I’m still in the event, to be honest," Williams said. "I’m still alive, that’s what matters."
The 31-year-old Williams has never been successful in her previous appearances in Cincinnati with her best result being reaching the semifinals in 2006. She’s hoping to add this title to her resume this weekend.
"I have quite a few things on my tennis bucket list," Williams said. "This obviously is one of them, but I like to believe, if it doesn’t happen this year, I always have another chance."
And just so fans are aware, Bob and Mike Bryan are still Americans in the Western & Southern Opencontention. They’ll play Santiago Gonzalez of Mexico and Scott Lipsky -- the only other American still in action this week -- in the semifinals.
FYI: Bob and Mike Bryan will be looking to win a calendar Grand Slam at the upcoming U.S. Open, having won the titles at the Australian, French and Wimbledon already this year. As it stands, they have already claimed a Bryan Golden Slam having won all four Grand Slams starting at last year’s U.S. Open and the Olympic doubles gold medal.