"I never played with him, never hit with him or practiced with him. His ball sure has some junk on it". John Isner discovered for the first time in career what does it mean playing with Rafa Nadal, and despite the loss, 57 63 36, he passed the test.
The 6-9 big hitter, with the cap turned back like a skater, entered oncourt with almost no chance of winning his fourth round clash, but the crowd, as every other crowd of tennis fans throughout the world, tried to support the underdog. And, like every other crowd in the United States, maintained an eternal hope for the American guy.
And the American guy, on a slow hardcourt, started in the only way he knows to crack Nadal. Serving 5 aces in the first two service games, and continuing booming Rafa. He registered 22 aces at the end of the match.
The ex University of Georgia student, who confessed not to have been a good tennis player until his junior year, but then led his team to an NCAA title, did his best in the first set, while Rafa showed his trademark topspin forehands with astonishing pace and acute angles and regardless he didn't make a single unforced error, and lost just one point on serve.
After 50 minutes, down 1-2 in the second, after failing the chance of breaking in he previous game when he went 15-40 but Isner saved himself with a rocking forehand on the second break point, Nadal out of nowhere cracked. The Mallorcan gifted a break with two consecutive double fault and Isner, losing just five points on serve after the two saved break points, easily forced the match to a decider.
In the third, with no signals, Isner's serve went out of order. The American held his opening game despite serving no first delivery but the sudden woe cost him a key-break in the very next service game. Isner saved two break points at 1-2, but Isner gave the Spaniard too many second chances and when one of his forehands found the top of the tape, the world number 3 started to see the arrival. And never looked back, capitalizing on his first match point with a blistering forehand winner.
The Mallorcan gave credit, in the post match conference, to the American. "Maybe will make a top player, a really top player, no? Better don't just talk more now, because if he improves just a little bit more, gonna be very difficult to stop him, no?"
I'd dare say he' right. Like it's going to be difficult to stop the "struggle for survival" rewarding more grown and broad-chested players. The evolution is a direct consequence of the growth in racquet's dimensions and ball's nature, but has to be balanced with the increasing moving difficulties that cost Isner the match in the third more than the ineffectiveness of his serve. The tendency will stop only when the slowness of movements will become such an hard obstacle to erase all the advantages of a solidly built body.