Top Seed Isner Falls Out of Citi Open

Washington D. C., July 22, 2016 — John Isner blew the top off this tournament nine years back, when it was called The Legg Mason Classic. He’d just graduated from the University of Georgia as a two-time N.C.A.A. doubles champ, was given a wildcard to the main draw, and made a spirited run to the final in his first appearance here. He lost to Andy Roddick, but no one lost the memories of Isner’s maiden week in Washington. 

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Since then he’s been received like a celebrity, in his eight return appearances. And, he has lost two additional finals: to Juan Martin del Potro in 2013 to Kei Nishikori in 2015.

Fans were hopeful that Big John — he’s six foot ten — would hit the jackpot this year. But another opportunity came and went, once again, as he lost to his friend and fellow American Stevie Johnson, 7-6(4), 7-6(15), in one of four quarterfinals of the day.

“I have no idea [how I won],” Johnson told fans inside Stadium Court. “It was one in a million. I have no idea what just happened.”

It was Isner’s and Johnson’s third time facing off here, and sixth meeting overall. Last year Johnson was on the verge of eliminating Isner in a semifinal that spanned three sets, all tiebreaks, when Johnson held match points. 

“John has a second gear where he can serve in tiebreaks, or any time, and you just don’t touch it,” Johnson began. “That happened last year in the third-set breaker against him.”

Isner vs. Johnson CO 2016 07 22 LB 00283

Steve Johnson lines up a forehand in his upset win over Citi Open’s number-one seed, John Isner. The two had a similar match last year, during the semifinals, which Isner won. This year, it was Stevie’s turn. Photo credit Leslie Billman tennisclix.com.

Today, the tables turned. And they spun the quickest in the tiebreaks, a risky proposition in any tennis match. 

“I shouldn’t have lost the second one. I shot myself in the foot,” Isner said. “In the first set I had another lead as well."

“The only point I can remember vividly in the second breaker was at 6-4, where he missed a short ball,” Johnson said. “I don’t think he’ll ever do that again. Then … I played 10-11 points tough on serve.”

Isner had countless chances today, but said “As hard as it is for me to swallow, I played the right way and put pressure on him. I did some good things but I didn’t get paid off. Partly because I got a little tight and partly because he was good and confident.”

“I feel like you don’t remember the ones you win but you do remember the ones you lose,” Johnson said about the roller-coaster tiebreaks. “I played John two years ago in Shanghai. I was serving 5-2 in the first breaker and he won it. In the second breaker I was serving up 6-4 and he won the match in straights. It’s one of those things. I think it all works itself out.”

With temperatures over 90 and humidity hanging in the air like an unwelcome cloud, both men soaked through their clothes and waved for towels between points. Isner’s frustration got the best of him, though, after he lost the first set. He smashed his racquet, earning a code violation.

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Isner totes his crumbled racquet to the sideline, after losing the first set. Photo credit Leslie Billman tennisclix.com.

“We’re an island out there. It’s the only sport like that where you can’t voice your thoughts and clear your head,” Johnson said about the incident. "He doesn’t do that; that isn’t John. But he cracked it and came back and didn’t let it affect his game.” 

Isner was seeded number one for the first time in his 9 tournament appearances. His loss was a disappointment, of course. But he blamed himself, nothing more.

“Zero factor,” Isner said, emphatically, about whether his schedule caused his loss  “Fatigue … yes, because it’s pretty hot out there. But coming from Davis Cup [in Oregon] was not an issue. I played two matches both in three sets in temperate conditions. So I was fresh coming in here. I just had to get used to the conditions. But as far as matches played ... that had nothing to do with it.”

Isner did take issue with his uncertainty.

“I pulled up and got tentative on points,” he began. “It’s been happening all year. But credit to him for coming up with big serves at big times.”

Isner vs. Johnson CO 2016 07 22 LB 00055

John Isner pulled up on two crucial forehands, which he said cost him dearly.
Photo credit Leslie Billman tennisclix.com. 

Isner served 29 aces today. Johnson was no slouch in that department, either. He connected with 22. On all service stats, though, Isner came out on top.

Tomorrow, Johnson will face yet another sky-scraper … Ivo Karlovic, who is one inch taller than Isner. Karlovic connected with 26 aces in his defeat of Jack Sock earlier today in, yes, two tiebreak sets, 7-6(4), 7-6(6). Karlovic returns to a Washington semifinal for the first time since 2007.

“John had something like 30 aces today,” Johnson said about tomorrow’s match-up. “Ivo could have many tomorrow. You just have to stay focused on your serve. If you blink on your serve, though, the set is over the quickly. So you have to go out there and hope for one break. And, as an athlete you have to be optimistic. Ivo could ace me 16 times, but on the next one I could get it. You just don’t know what’s going to happen on the next point. That’s the mentality I take. You have to find a way to stay positive."

© Jane Voigt Tennis 2013