While Novak Djokovic was deciding to risk his recently injured ankle and play in the Rolex Monte Carlo Masters, John Isner was realizing he had taken a leap too far in trying to play here — 5,410 miles from the scene of his title-winning triumph in Houston on Sunday.
After winning the first set against Latvia’s Ernests Gulbis, Isner lost a bit of potency on his thundering serve and soon found he did not have the legs to chase the drop shots that Gulbis unkindly began delivering with great accuracy at awkward moments. The result was a 4-6, 6-2, 6-3 victory for Gulbis.
The sun was starting to set on a gloriously sunny but cool Cote d’Azur day by the time Isner started feeling the effects of a long journey coupled with the effort he had expended in winning his first-ever clay-court title.
"I was starting to feel a little tired after the first set," Isner admitted. "But that’s not an excuse. I didn’t really serve as big as I usually do, and he started playing a lot better as the match went on. At 2-all or something in the second set, I just sort of fell apart."
Isner had asked for a wild card into this tournament as soon as he realized he was playing better following his first-round match in Houston.
"Obviously, I didn’t know I was going to win the tournament, and, even if I did, I thought it would not be a bad sort of problem to have. Now I’ll go home — quick trip! — but look forward to coming back for Madrid and the rest of the clay-court season next month.
"I feel I’ve turned a corner. I’m playing better and feeling good."
Isner only heard of the Boston bombing when he got here last night.
"It’s horrible to see that there are monsters like that out there," he said.
A little while earlier, most of the interest had been centered on Court 7, where world No. 1 Djokovic was giving himself a final practice session before deciding whether to play against Mikhail Youzhny on Wednesday.
Just nine days before, Djokovic had gone over on his right ankle early in the first set of his Davis Cup match against Sam Querrey in Boise, Idaho. Djokovic added more luster to his reputation as a Serbian patriot by battling on to win and so ensure the United States’ ouster from the quarterfinal.
But, as Djokovic admitted afterward, he hadn’t done his ankle much good. An MRI later showed that no serious structural damage had been done and all he needed was time. Did he have enough?
"The ankle is stable; he can play," said Novak’s longtime coach, Marian Vajda. "I would have preferred him to have another week’s rest, but Novak regards this tournament as home and is desperate to play here."
The decision didn’t surprise Isner, who had witnessed Novak’s injury from courtside in Boise.
"Nothing surprises me about that guy," Isner said. "I was shocked he continued playing against Sam, but he’s a world-class athlete and that’s what he can do, apparently."