Reversing the result of their semifinal here a year ago, John Isner on Friday served his way past defending champion Kevin Anderson 6-2, 7-6 on a chilly night in the quarterfinals of the Delray Beach International.
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It was a morale-boosting win for the 6-foot-9 American, whose confidence does not always match his stature on a tennis court.
Forced to miss the Australian Open with a knee injury, Isner lost in the first round last week at Memphis following a semifinal showing at San Jose, and now seems to be hitting his stride in testing conditions.
With the weather hot, humid and windy early in the week before rain washed out Wednesday’s play, Isner had to adapt to temperatures that had plunged into the 50s.
The chill did not help Anderson, a U.S.-based South African who underwent elbow surgery in Melbourne at the end of January and needed time to warm up. Before he did, the first set was gone in a blur of Isner thunderbolts that included five aces.
Twelve more followed in a protracted second set that turned into more of a battle before Isner came up with a couple of great returns to dominate the breaker 7-1.
“I knew it was going to be tougher in the second set,” said Isner. “It’s tough coming back from any surgery, let alone an elbow, and he definitely served better in the second. But I was pretty satisfied with my performance, which is not something I can always say. I couldn’t do better than I did in the tie break.”
Despite his physical attributes, it is clear Isner’s tennis is governed by his mental state, and he seems unusually relaxed about his game right now.
“I’m trying not to put too much pressure on myself,” he said. “I think I play better when I keep the expectation low. I am just trying to get better at dealing with adversity on court.”
Isner should not have fretted too much overnight about his semifinal opponent, who, with respect, does not have a record to match the American.
Edouard Roger-Vasselin is a Frenchman ranked 105th who rarely ventures past the last eight of ATP events. In fact, in six quarterfinal appearances, the 29-year-old had only advanced further on one occasion prior to this week.
But he played well to beat the tour’s other giant, 6-10 Ivo Karlovic in the second round, so he obviously is not unnerved by serves that come out of the trees. Roger-Vasselin also was too clever for Ricardas Berankis, beating the Lithuanian 6-4, 6-3.
Saturday’s first semifinal will see the former champion Ernests Gulbis, who had to qualify this year, play the tour’s senior citizen, 34-year-old Tommy Haas.
Gulbis took care of Spain’s Daniel Munoz-De La Nava 6-1, 6-4 while Haas finished strongly to beat the Croat Ivan Dodig 7-6, 2-6, 6-1.
There was more success for the new duo of James Blake and Jack Sock. The Americans, finalists in Memphis, reached the semifinal here with a crushing 6-2, 6-1 win over Berankis and Russia’s Evgeny Donskoy.