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John Isner in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Casey Sykes/Getty Images)

Six-time champion Isner up to his usual tiebreaker tricks at Atlanta Open

By Ricky Dimon

For the eighth time in 12 Atlanta Opens since the tournament began in 2010, John Isner needed three sets to get through his opening match. Isner outlasted 19-year-old wild card Ben Shelton 7-6(8), 4-6, 7-6(3) to wrap up second-round action on Thursday night.

Of those opening matches, three have required final-set tiebreakers (the six-time Atlanta champion is 2-1 in such situations). Three others he has won 7-5 in the third.

“It was a tough match,” Isner assured after battling past his fellow college star. “I knew it would be. I’ve played this tournament every year and my first match for some reason is always pretty tough. It’s definitely really nice to get a bye, but sometimes it can be tricky if you’re playing someone who’s got a match under his belt.

“I think maybe that had something a little bit to do with it tonight, but for the most part I just think he’s a really good player. (I’m) definitely bullish on him; I’ll buy some stock in Ben Shelton going forward. I wish him all the best.”

Shelton actually won more total points in the contest (102 to 201) and very well may have prevailed in straight sets had he managed to close out the first. The reigning NCAA singles champion earned the only break point in set one and had one set point at 7-6 in the tiebreaker.

Isner never broke serve in the entire match; the only break went to Shelton in the first game of the second. In typical Isner fashion, however, he was too good when it mattered most in ‘breakers.

“He has pretty good experience in tiebreakers in his career,” Shelton said. “He was a little bit better than me in the one percents today. But that’s alright. I’m just glad to be out here.”

At the opposite end of his career spectrum, it’s a much different story for Isner. There is no “just happy to be here” mentality; it’s all about winning–especially in Atlanta.

After surviving that scare, the 37-year-old still has a chance to win yet again.

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