Top-seeded Isner moves on at Newport

Top seed and defending champion John Isner beat qualifier Sergei Bubka of the Ukraine 7-6 (3), 4-6, 6-3 in the first round at the Hall of Fame Tennis Championships on Tuesday.

Isner, ranked 11th in the world entering the week, is slated to face Nicolas Mahut in the next round. The pair met in the longest match in tennis history — 11 hours, 5 minutes before Isner’s 70-68 fifth-set victory in 2010 at Wimbledon.

”We can’t avoid each other on grass,” Isner joked about his pairing against Mahut. ”I should have won my first-round match at Wimbledon (last month) and we would have faced each other.”

But Isner knows he has to play better to advance. He felt like he was having trouble with Newport’s grass surface most of the match against Bubka.

”I didn’t quite have my feet under me,” he said. ”I wasn’t used to the court. That’s something that comes with playing matches.”

In the third game of the final set, Isner struggled to hold serve. When the game was over, the crowd became noticeably louder, trying to help him pick up momentum.

After Bubka double-faulted in the eighth game, Isner closed it with a backhand winner, going up 5-3 in the set. He closed out the match with a service winner.

Second-seeded Kei Nishikori also advanced with a 6-4, 6-4 win over Igor Sijsling from Netherlands.

In the first match of the day on center court, Nishikori was steady but unspectacular under nearly ideal weather conditions of mostly blue skies.

By climbing up the ATP rankings, Nishikori realizes he’s been gaining a lot more attention at home because of his recent success. The 22-year old advanced to the third round at Wimbledon last month.

”Everything changed in Japan and other countries,” he said. ”I’m feeling a little bit of tension, but it’s something you don’t get normally. It’s good. Everybody knows me on the street or whatever in the tournament, that kind of stuff.”

Currently No. 18 on the ATP Tour, he was ranked as high as No. 16 earlier this year.

In other first-round play, third-seeded Milos Raonic of Canada rallied past Australian Matthew Ebden 3-6, 6-3, 7-5; American Sam Querrey, continuing his comeback from elbow surgery last year, ousted No. 5-seeded Alex Bogomolov Jr. of Russia 7-5, 7-6 (5); American Tim Smyczek beat No. 4 Denis Istomin 6-3, 6-3; and 2009 Newport champion Rajeev Ram defeated Grega Zemlja 6-3, 6-1.

Izak Van Der Merwe outlasted eighth-seeded Gilles Muller 7-6 (5), 6-7 (3), 6-4; and Jesse Levine beat Marinko Matosevic 6-2, 7-6 (8) and former No. 1 ranked Lleyton Hewitt coasted by Canada’s Vasek Pospisil 6-1, 6-1.