That the NCAA collegiate runner-up from the University of Georgia--a fine
player surely, but with essentially no pro-tour experience and unseeded here--could
win five straight matches, thereby reaching the final round against Andy
Roddick, almost defied imagining. That it would be achieved primarily by strong
serving and net-attacking tactics defied the modern trends favoring strength in
baseline hitting. That all five of the player's victories would occur in
third-set tiebreakers made the whole scenario all but impossible.
But 6-9 American John Isner, facing talented Gael Monfils in this evening's
semi-final, showed that he knows how to win matches. As earlier in the week,
Isner's serving skills served him well in his foremost concern--holding his own
serving games. He also showed some wonderful volleying and overhead ability,
helped by his excellent range at net, and he demonstrated a surprisingly good
ability to stay even amid extended baseline exchanges long enough to force his
way forward. Monfils used his unmatched court mobility to answer much of
Isner's volleying, including most of the American's bids for drop-volley winners.
But when forced to hit from deep court, which sometimes seemed his own
preference, Gael's passing shots were too often inaccurate and also, rather
The drama unfolded as if by script. Sets one and two were split, both settled
in tiebreakers. In the third set, the score reached five games all, where
neither player had yet lost serve all evening. By then the evening cooling and
rising humidity sapped some of the energy from both men's serves, and aces had
become distinctly fewer. (For the night Monfils led in the count of aces,
25-23.) In the eleventh game of set three, Gael seemed at last atop John's big
serves, and the French star delivered several strong returns thereby producing the
first service break of the match. But needing only to hold service one more
time, Gael became victim of tennis's signature bugaboo. John won the first
point by coming forward behind his own return of serve--a tactic seldom tried by
either player this night. Gael next double-faulted, falling behind love-30. He
recovered to 30-all, but his first-serve then vanished, and John took over,
closing out the game with another net charge.
Thus yet another Isner match would end in a deciding tiebreaker. But the
result now seemed predictable. John continued his recent aggressive tactics,
winning seven of the game's nine points against a worthy but now forlorn opponent.