I have to admit I've been a bit of a skeptic when it's come to John Isner this year. After an injury at the start of the year, after which he lost his spot as #1 American man on the ATP tour, it just seemed that his game was headed the wrong direction. Known for his incredible serve, which seems as if he's serving from a tree, as Andy Roddick once said, he usually can hold serve easily, but then is able to do little on his opponent's serve. When he started having trouble this year even holding his own serve, though, things definitely weren't looking good.
I watched his semifinal against Juan Monaco in which he got broken three times in a row to lose the set 6-1. It really was quite shocking and my negative view was being further cemented. I left the TV on, however, and was impressed to see him change his style of play in the next set, becoming more aggressive and able to claim the next two sets for a victory. I admit, however, that I wasn't hopeful for a win in the final against Nicholas Almagro, a known clay court player. In fact, when I had to leave after Isner got broken in the first set I figured it was a done deal. I was impressed when I turned it on later to find him serving for the match!
I have since gone back to watch the whole match. The thing I have been impressed with in both the semi and the final is that neither of these matches had a tiebreaks, something John is known for it seems like in almost every set he plays. Usually his return game percentage is atrocious. However, something seemed to have clicked for him in Houston this week and he found a way to add the aggression to his game on his opponent's serve and pull off his wins with breaks of serve to take the sets, the way tennis really should be played. It sure would be great to see him be able to translate what he did here over on the clay courts of Europe.
Speaking of clay courts in Europe, the real clay season is starting. Oh how I would love to see a change from the norm we have been used to seeing with Rafael Nadal stealing virtually every clay court title. Surely there has to be someone who can beat him! How about starting in Monte Carlo so he doesn't take an incredible nine titles in a row, which is just ridiculous by any standard. While I certainly think what Rafa has done on clay is completely amazing, I have to say I'm very ready to see someone figure out the puzzle of how to beat him.
Unfortunately Roger Federer fans will have to wait a few more weeks to see him grace the courts again. He is choosing to stick with his original schedule, taking a very long break for some down time, but also some intense training/practice as he prepares for his return in Madrid in May. We will be incredibly anxious by then to see if these long weeks have paid off to get him back to the form that has been missing so far in 2013.