ATP Cincinnati: John Isner serves into quarterfinals

In a battle between the old guard and the #nextgen of American tennis, veteran John Isner put an end to youngster Frances Tiafoe’s run at the Western and Southern Open in a rain-delayed third round battle on Thursday night. Tiafoe matched the big-serving Isner shot-for-shot for much of the night, but the veteran’s experience came through late in both sets as Isner struck at the tail end twice to win the match 7-6(4), 7-5.

Isner hangs on in tiebreak

As is often the case in an Isner match, openings in service game were few and far between. It wasn’t until the seventh game when a return had a look at a break. Surprisingly, it was the veteran who found himself down 0-30 after Tiafoe’s passing shot caught the net cord, forcing Isner into an awkward volley which he missed. A forehand winner two points later gave Tiafoe double break point, but Isner managed to serve his way out of the jam. In the following game, the young gun needed to fight through a deuce before holding.

Frances Tiafoe hits a backhand in Cincinnati. Photo: Rob Carr/Getty Images
Frances Tiafoe hits a backhand in Cincinnati. Photo: Rob Carr/Getty Images

For the remainder of the set, both men held easily to send it to a tiebreak. It was Isner jumping out to an early lead when Tiafoe put a backhand into the net to trail 2-1. Trailing Isner and his big serve in a tiebreak is always a challenge, but the youngster would pull back and level at 4-4 when he drove a passing shot into Isner’s feet, which the veteran half-volleyed into the net. That would prove to be Tiafoe’s last stand, however, as Isner would reel off three straight points, including two on the youngster’s serve to take the tiebreak 7-4 and the opening set.

Rain solidifies Isner’s momentum

Much like the first, serve went mostly unchallenged in the second set. It was once again Isner facing pressure first, staring down a 0-30 hole in the eighth game. But once again, the American veteran was able to dig himself out of a jam, holding after a deuce. The hold leveled the set at 4-4. Before Tiafoe could start his next service game, the skies opened up, forcing the pair to retreat to the locker room. The delay would last an hour and ten minutes.

Isner cracks a forehand during his third round win. Photo: Rob Carr/Getty Images
Isner cracks a forehand during his third round win. Photo: Rob Carr/Getty Images

When they returned, for the first time in the match, Isner was able to put some real pressure on Tiafoe’s serve. He took a 0-30 lead in the first game post-delay, but could not convert. In his next return game, following another brief rain delay that only lasted a couple of minutes, a double fault gave Isner his first break points of the match at 15-40. Tiafoe saved the first with an ace, but double-faulted again to give Isner a 6-5 lead. Serving out the match, the American giant made no mistakes, striking back-to-back aces to close out the match.

By the numbers

It was a typical Isner win, as the American struck 27 aces and won 80 percent of his first serve points. Tiafoe also won 80 percent of his first serve points, although he only put 55 percent of his first serves in play. The older American saved both break points that he faced, while the youngster only saved one of two. In the entire matches, only 30 points of the 146 played lasted more than five shots.

Isner will play another young American, Jared Donaldson, in the quarterfinals.