By Sandra Harwitt
The men’s final is all set for the Western & Southern Open and it’s America’s top tennis stud, John Isner, against Rafael Nadal, the hottest player on tour this year.
Let’s talk the 22nd-ranked Isner first -- the homegrown guy who hails from Greensboro, North Carolina. At 6 ft, 10 inches tall, there’s no denying that John Boy is a giant among men on the court.
Unseeded here in Cincinnati, Isner’s continuing to push the envelope this summer. He won the Atlanta title with a win over another tall dude, 6 ft, 8 inch Kevin Anderson of South Africa. He then went on to Washington, DC where he wandered his way into the finals, losing to yet another tall dude, 6 ft. 6 inch Juan Martin del Potro.
Now Isner’s into yet another summer final in a U.S. Open Series event. How he got to the final is pretty impressive, especially his last two victories. In the quarterfinals he posted his second career victory over world No. 1 Novak Djokovic with a 7-6, 3-6, 7-5 win. It was a pretty impressive performance.
Often a player has a letdown after a big win, but not Isner, certainly not this time. He had a little payback to do to the Argentine del Potro, who he had lost to in their four previous meeting, including in that recent Washington final. On Saturday, he technically saved a match point with del Potro leading 5-3 in the second set -- DelPo double faulted that match point away. Isner then broke serve and from there the American went on to a 6-7, 7-6, 6-3 semifinal victory.
All good for Isner?
Well, it would be a bit foolhardy to make that assessment even with the excellent play he’s showed off this week.
Why you might ask?
Here’s the reason why: Rafael Nadal. That’s right, Isner is going to have to take down Nadal if he’s to take the Western & Southern Open title and that’s not an easy job. Ask anyone who has tried it in the past.
The 27-year-old Nadal has been close to untouchable this season since he returned to play in South America, in February, after an eight-month layoff to tend to his hurting knee.
Nadal is 51-3 on the season and has reached 10 finals in the 11 tournaments he’s played. He already has an amazing eight titles in the bank this year: Sao Paulo, Acapulco, ATP WOrld Masters 1000 Indian Wells, Barcelona, ATP World Masters 1000madrid, ATP World Masters 1000 Rome, French Open, ATP World Masters 1000 Montreal. His French Open victory provided the Mallorcan with a record eighth French Open trophy -- in total, he has 12 Grand Slam titles and at least one in each of the four Grand Slams.
A former world No. 1, Nadal is now ranked No. 3 on the Emirates ATP Ranking chart, and is playing some impressive tennis. To reach the semifinals he played another epic match against chief rival Roger Federer, winning 1-6, 7-5, 6-3 to improve his record against Fed to 21-10. And then he beat Tomas Berdych 7-5, 7-6 in Saturday’s semifinal.
So what’s at stake here at the Western & Southern Open? Plenty is the answer.
Nadal is looking to win back-to-back hard court titles for the first time in his career -- he won the Montreal title last week, which included beating Djokovic in the final. He’s won 37 ATP Masters 1000 title in his career and an overall 58 titles.
As for Isner, he’s hoping to pull in his first ATP Masters 1000 title in his second final at an ATP Masters 1000 tournament. Overall, Isner’s won seven career titles with two -- Houston and Atlanta -- coming this season.
Let’s just say that in the scheme of tall guys, at only 6 ft, 1 inches high, Nadal will come across as a bit short against Isner. But that won’t mean that Nadal’s likely to get short-circuited by Isner in the final.
Nadal’s beaten Isner in all three of their previous meetings, and while I won’t say that Big John has no chance to pull off the upset, I anticipate that Nadal will ride a two tournament victory swing into the upcoming U.S. Open.