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John Isner’s Miami Tennis Title Defense Continues, Unlikely Semifinalist Stands In His Way

By Ricky Dimon


In the early stages of this tournament, John Isner said he had about a one in 100 chance of successfully defending his 2018 Miami Open title.


It may be time to revise the odds.


Isner moved to within two wins of another improbable Miami triumph when he defeated Roberto Bautista Agut 7-6(1), 7-6(5) during quarterfinal action on Wednesday afternoon. The 6’10” American turned in a typically dominant serving display, firing 24 aces compared to only one double-fault while putting 74 percent of his first serves in play. He held off Bautista Agut–who upset world No. 1 Novak Djokovic in round four–after one hour and 45 minutes.


By Isner standards a two-tiebreaker scoreline is hardly more than routine, but things got tricky in the second set. In fact, the world No. 9 trailed by two mini-breakers at 3-0 in the tiebreaker before mounting an impressive comeback. A final, match-clinching mini-break for Isner came when Bautista Agut netted a forehand at 5-6.


Isner may not be the title favorite with Roger Federer still in the draw, but you can be sure his odds of lifting the trophy are now far better than one in 100.


This year’s Miami Masters has been all about defying odds. Just consider Isner’s semifinal opponent: Felix Auger-Aliassime.


When the season began, Auger-Aliassime was ranked No. 108 in the world. Breakthrough results during February’s clay-court swing came after the Miami entry deadline, so he had to qualify for the main draw. He successfully did that and has since scored victories over Casper Ruud, Marton Fucsovics, Hubert Hurkacz, Nikoloz Basilashvili, and Borna Coric.


The 18-year-old Canadian took down Coric 7-6(3), 6-2 on Wednesday night for what has to be considered the biggest win of his career given the enormity of the occasion.


Miami’s semifinal lineup will be rounded out on Thursday when the bottom half of the bracket takes center stage. Roger Federer is going up against familiar foe Kevin Anderson after the 37-year-old Swiss took care of Daniil Medvedev 6-4, 6-2 in a rain-delayed fourth-rounder on Wednesday afternoon.


“I think it’s going to be a bit tricky,” Federer said of the match with Anderson, who upset him in five sets in last summer’s Wimbledon quarterfinals. “He’s got a great serve, so you go back to big-serve mentality to try to hold your own service games first before thinking about how to break Kevin. Had a tough one against him at Wimbledon when I lost. Was able to come back and play a good match against him [at the Nitto ATP Finals] when I really had to in that round-robin match.


“But I think I’m feeling really good. Today’s match I can be really happy with. I hope it’s going to give me some confidence for tomorrow.”


Ricky contributes to 10sballs.com and also maintains his own tennis website, The Grandstand. You can follow him on twitter at @Dimonator.

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