Isner Edges Djokovic In Semi-final Battle
Indian Wells, U.S.A.
American John Isner continued to prove his status as a serious contender on the men’s tour, prevailing against defending champion Novak Djokovic 7-6(7), 3-6, 7-6(5) on Saturday to reach his first ATP World Tour Masters 1000 final.
"That's why I play this game, to be able to enjoy moments like that," said Isner of the home country support. "The stadium was packed, wasn't a seat in the house, and everyone was on their feet, cheering for me, too. It was very special when that last ball went by him and I knew I had won the match. "
The win - Isner’s first over a World No. 1 - ensured that he would break into the Top 10 for the first time. Should he capture the title Sunday, he would climb an extra two spots to No. 8 in the ATP Rankings, passing Mardy Fish to become the top American.
"With that serve and with that forehand he's got the ability to be a Top 10 player," said Djokovic. "He had that already a couple years back. It's just a matter of really trusting your instincts and your strokes and your quality. I think it all came together for him now, and he's deservedly in the Top 10 now."
Djokovic appeared to be in control early on, breaking Isner at love in the third game, but conceded his advantage as he served for the set at 5-4. Isner put the Serbian on the defensive in the tie-break, and claimed the set after one hour after Djokovic returned a second serve into the net on the American’s third set point.
"The first set was really key because he came out and got on top of me early," said Isner. "At 5-4, I got back on serve; that gave me a lot of momentum. And winning that first set tie-breaker, I knew that I was firmly in the match. At that point I believed I could win the match, but at that point it was within my reach."
After winning 62 percent of his service games in the opening set, Djokovic stepped up his level in the second game, dropping just one point on serve. Isner came back from 0/40 in the eighth game, but could not save a fourth break point.
Isner fired an ace on Djokovic’s next break point opportunity in the seventh game of the third set, and earned his first match point five games later when Djokovic’s serve sailed long. Djokovic held and sent the match to a tie-break, where the American set up three more match points at 6-3. Djokovic saved two, before Isner fired his 20th ace to clinch the win after two hours and 45 minutes.
"I had in the third set a couple of times 30-all and some chances really where I was in the rally, but he came up with some incredible groundstrokes winners, and that's it," said Djokovic. "I have to shake his hand and congratulate him for the win."
The 26-year-old North Carolina native has now won three of his last four matches against Top 10 players, including an upset of World No. 3 Roger Federer in the United States’ Davis Cup tie against Switzerland last month in Fribourg.
"I knew going into this year that I had the tools and I had the game to be able to at least compete with these guys," he said. "I take the court no matter who I'm playing expecting to win and believing to win. There's really no reason to take the court if I believe otherwise. The win against Roger was very big for my confidence, and obviously this one will be very big for my confidence, also."
Isner will be going for his fourth ATP World Tour singles title, and his first since Winston-Salem last August. He has a 3-5 record in tour-level finals.
Isner will also play for the doubles title later Saturday, when he and Sam Querrey face off against Spaniards Rafael Nadal and Marc Lopez. Isner and Querrey teamed to win the ATP World Tour Masters 1000 title on clay in Rome last year.
The 24-year-old Djokovic had won 11 straight matches in the Coachella Valley coming into Saturday’s semi-finals, and was looking to reach his fourth Indian Wells final. He finished runner-up to Nadal in 2007, claimed the title in 2008 (d. Fish) and in ’11 (d. Nadal).
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