by JAMES HENRY
CINCINNATI – Top-ranked American John Isner is basking in success on home soil again. But he’s not done yet.
“I’m just very happy. Playing tournaments of this magnitude and being able to get wins like that on a packed stadium court full of American fans cheering me on, it’s an unbelievable feeling,” he said. “It’s one that I haven’t had too much at a tournament this level.”
Isner defeated Juan Martín del Potro 6-7 (5), 7-6 (9), 6-3 to advance to the end of the Western & Southern Open in Cincinnati.
It was his third consecutive win against a top-10 player. He beat Milos Raonic, the newest and youngest member of the ATP World Tour Top 10, in the third round and World No. 1 Novak Djokovic in the quarterfinals.
Isner, who is projected to climb back into the top-20 rankings next week, will battle resurgent World No. 3 Rafael Nadal in the final, which is scheduled to start at 12:30 p.m. Sunday. The Spaniard ousted Tomáš Berdych 7-5, 7-6 (4).
“I’ve never beaten Rafa,” Isner noted of their three previous encounters.
But, he added, he is up for the challenge.
It will be his second Masters 1000 final. He was the runner-up to Roger Federer in Indian Wells last year.
“It’s awesome to be at this level, be at this stage. Again, I should say these are the toughest tournaments in the world, given the player field,” he said. “It’s a smaller draw, and everyone’s entered. It’s not a Grand Slam. Those are a much bigger draw. But everyone in the main draw is in the top 50 in the world. To be able to get to this stage, you’ve got to beat a lot of good players, and you have to have a lot of things go your way, which I have this week. I’ve caught a few breaks here and there. I’ll take it and see what I can do tomorrow."
“It was a great experience last year in Indian Wells. I’ll try to go out tomorrow and play as best as I can and see what happens.”
Isner noted his playing level has improved recently.
“This tournament is where I’m really starting to put it all together. No offense to the other guys I’ve beaten prior to this, but like you just said, I’ve beaten three top-10 guys in a row,” he said. “For me to do that, I have been playing well really in pretty much all facets of my game. There’s definitely some stuff I can always improve on, but I do think I’m playing well.”
He conceded, though, that he needs to perform better in competitions in other countries.
“I’m just comfortable in the U.S. It’s something I need to prove on. Really sort of saved my season the last four years every time the summer rolls around in the states,” he said. “I’m probably always going to play my best tennis in the states, but I can always improve over in Europe. One thing is these are surfaces I’m comfortable on, but also the support that I have from the fans and whatnot, it helps a lot."
“What it all comes down to is me being comfortable. I think that’s the main key.”
Following their match, Isner praised his semifinal opponent as “one of the better guys on the tour.”
“There’s no doubt about that. You ask anyone, and they will say the same,” he said. “That’s just how he is. He’s a very, very good guy. I have nothing but the most respect for him."
"You know, we are good friends in the locker room. We’re always saying, ‘Hi.’ We’re very, very cordial with each other – as I said, he’s a class act and a very good guy."
“Just as, you know, I think guys at the top of our game right now are all very, very classy individuals.”
Photos by James Henry for OnTheGoTennis