LONDON—Shall we say pistols at dawn? Or, in the case of the Wimbledon quarterfinal match between John Isner and Milos Raonic, Big Serves at Dusk.
All parties knew this match was going to be a case of gunslinger tennis at its finest. Hold, hold, hold, hold—and then, starting at 4-all, pay close attention.
That was precisely what happened, Isner reaching his first Grand Slam semifinal with a poised, 6-7 (5), 7-6 (7), 6-4, 6-3 victory over ’16 Wimbledon runner-up Raonic.
The turning point came in the second-set tiebreaker. Isner served at 5-6—one point away from going down two sets to love. A stabbed backhand volley and an overhead earned Isner the point. At 7-all, Isner struck a crisp backhand return that Raonic half-volleyed long, closing out the set with a forceful forehand. Once Isner had evened the match, his confidence rose and the next two sets were his—in the fourth set even breaking Raonic twice.
Here are a few interesting takeaways from the match and beyond:
High quality at both ends. It’s generally considered a fine effort if a player has twice as many winners as unforced errors. In this case, the ratio for both players was triple—59 to 18 for Raonic, 55 to 17 for Isner.
Net-rushing galore. Isner approached 37 times, winning 30. Raonic came in even more, but not nearly as proficiently (46 of 70).
WATCH—Match point from Isner’s win over Raonic in Wimbledon quarterfinals:
School days. Though it wasn’t until this year (his 10th Wimbledon) that the big-serving Isner even reached the round of 16, but he is certain that playing college tennis (University of Georgia) is a major reason for his success.
“College tennis for me was the perfect avenue to where I am now,” said Isner. “Had I not gone to college, I wouldn’t be sitting here right now. The thought of going pro out of high school never entered my mind.”
Tom Petty was wrong: The waiting is not the hardest part. Asked how it was to wait for the conclusion of the lengthy, rollercoaster match between Roger Federer and Kevin Anderson that preceded his, Isner said, “I can never complain about that. There were some poor souls that were—I don’t know who it was, that were playing after me in 2010 [when he took three days to beat Nicholas Mahut, 70-68 in the fifth], that never got on the court. I wasn’t complaining at all. I was just laughing about it. But I stayed ready. I warmed up a few times. I ate the proper amount of food. I was ready to go.”
Girl power. Isner credits both his December marriage to Madison McKinley and the upcoming September birth of a daughter as key factors in helping him maintain perspective and minimize pressure.
Once more for the stars and stripes. Isner became only the second American man since 2009 to reach a Grand Slam singles semifinal. The first was his mate, Sam Querrey, who made it to the final four here a year ago. Should Isner win his semi, he’ll become the first American man to advance to a Grand Slam singles final since Andy Roddick’s runner-up effort here in ’09.
14. That’s how many years Isner estimates he and his semifinal opponent, Kevin Anderson, have competed versus another, going back to the days when Anderson played at the University of Illinois and he and Isner locked horns several times. As pros, Isner leads the rivalry 8-3. But their last meeting, won by Isner, came more than three years ago. They’ve also never played one another in a major.
Strokes of Genius is a world-class documentary capturing the historic 13-year rivalry between tennis icons Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal. It is timed for release as the anticipation crests with Roger as returning champion, 10 years after their famed 2008 Wimbledon championship – an epic match so close and so reflective of their competitive balance that, in the end, the true winner was the sport itself.
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