John Isner was just a few wins away (or an early exit by Mardy Fish) from being the American #1 two weeks ago. He recently entered the top 10, though only stayed there for 1 week before sliding back down to #11. Isner may be 26 years old, but he is young in years on the ATP tour (he turned pro in 2007 after playing college tennis). Isner is going to have to get used to the fact that quite a lot will be expected of him now.
He was not saddled with these expectations two months ago, when he led the US Davis Cup team to an upset victory over Switzerland. Yes, Mardy Fish was the US #1 at the time and the one expected to lead the team. It doesn’t matter. Fish struggled to beat Stanislas Wawrinka in an ugly match (which, admittedly, took a bit of mental strength by Fish to close out) while Isner served very smartly and played well to knock off Roger Federer.
This time around, though, there is no Mardy Fish to take any of the weight of the expectations off of Isner’s shoulders. Isner will be the one expected to lead this US team past the quarterfinals for the first time since they won the Davis Cup in 2007. Of course, there also is no Roger Federer on the other side of the net in this tie against France. Isner will meet Gilles Simon, who has never beaten him, and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga. Neither of those two has a great return of serve, so Isner’s big serve should give him a pretty decent advantage.
France, also, did not learn from Switzerland’s mistake. They set the tie in the clay of Monte Carlo, which is usually a very bad surface for Americans. However, the high bounce at Monte Carlo will suit Isner’s serve very well. It makes his first serve hard to handle and his kicked second serve is almost untouchable when it bounces so high. It gave Federer problems (though this clay won’t bounce quite as high as Fribourg did in Switzerland) and will certainly trouble Simon and Tsonga. And, of course, the Bryan brothers are going to be the favorites for their doubles match no matter what the surface is. Also, Ryan Harrison took a set off of Robin Soderling at the French Open last year, so he doesn’t seem quite as troubled on clay as the average American player is.
Speaking of Harrison, this will be a very important tie for him as well. Harrison has faced Simon and Tsonga a combined once in his career, and that was two weeks ago when he lost to Simon in 3 sets in the fourth round at Indian Wells. Mardy Fish pulled out of this tie due to fatigue, so this will be Harrison’s first real chance to perform on this stage. He has faced top players before at Grand Slams (he has faced a top 6 player in 3 of the past 4 Slams), but he has never won such a high-profile match nor was he ever expected to win one. He will certainly not be the favorite in either of these rubbers, but a win here is definitely possible and could do wonders for his confidence-especially if Isner or the Bryan brothers don’t win all three of their rubbers.
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