The match was a seesaw affair that went the distance. Isner brought his usual combination of powerful serves and forehand winners to counter the solid form of Gabashvili. After an even opening set that Isner took in a tie-break, Gabashviili responded with consecutive set wins before Isner took the final two sets. The American would go on to win the match 7-6(7), 4-6, 2-6, 6-4, 6-2.
Isner, the top-ranked American man, carries high hopes in the French Open. It has been years since any American male has won a grand slam title. Indeed, Isner has failed to reach the fourth round at Roland Garros each of the past two years. The opening set of his match today foreshadowed a difficult affair.
Isner opened the first game with three aces. It is a patented skill of the world number 17. He has one of strongest arms in tennis. His height, towering at 6'10'', allowed him to pound the clay on a regular first serve against an onlooking Gabashvili. All told, Isner fired 10 aces in the first set. Gabashvili answered with none.
The solid form of the Russain competitor allowed him to hold serve throughout, as the set went to a tie-break. Isner ended the tie-break with a patented ace that sailed by Gabashvili.
The lower-seeded Gabashvili had set point on his own serve, but Isner was able to defend it before he clinched.
The brink of defeat
Gabashvili, the lowest of the four Russian men in the top 100, responded to Isner's first set victory in impressive form. He did it with a strong showing of the solid skills that let him best higher seeded Benoit Paire in the previous round.
The Russian was able to withstand the Isner serve with a solid forehand that got him back in the point. Isner's ace total in the second set dropped to six. Gabashvili, for his part, landed an impressive 81 percent of his first serve and finally converted on the one break point he was giving. He won the second set 6-4.
The third set was more of the same. Isner, once again, only landed 6 aces on the clay- a small number compared to someone who's used to posting double digits in any given set. He also double-faulted twice, which was a telling sign of how the set went. The American only managed to win two games as Gabashvili, given six break points, converted two of them for a 6-2 win.
Isner finally stopped the bleeding when he hit a shot to the forehand of his opponent. Gabashvili, on his own serve, returned the ball in error, giving the big American the break he so desperately craved. The higher seed would go on to serve out the fourth set.
The fifth set had many American spectators on edge early. After countryman Jack Sock failed to advance earlier in the day, Isner became the last American male left standing. His hopes looked very grim after Gabashvili took an early break to go up 2-0. All the Russian needed to do was serve out the set and he would advance to the round of 16 at the French Open.
That was when Isner stormed back. He combined strong volleying that matched more errors by Gabashvili. The Russian dropped six straight games and the meltdown was complete. Isner did help, using his racket to send powerful groundstrokes skidding off the red clay for winners. But Gabashvili will look back on this match with disdain, he had multiple chances to topple yet another higher -seeded player and couldn't come through. Isner will take the win. With it, hopes of another American man winning the French Open (or any grand slam) after so many years live on.