By Laura Amato
John Isner couldn’t pinpoint what emotion he was feeling.
He was exhausted—every muscle in his body hurt—but he was also thrilled after coming out on the winning side of a three-and-a-half hour battle against fellow American Frances Tiafoe in the opening round of the US Open Monday.
It wasn’t a particularly pretty victory.
The 20th-seeded Isner dropped the first two sets before battling back to win 3-6, 4-6, 7-6(5), 6-2, 7-6(3). Isner found a renewed sense of determination down the stretch, settling into a rhythm every time his racket made contact with the ball.
He simply refused to lose.
“It’s why you play,” Isner said. “It’s why you work so hard, to have moments like that. Everyone that’s been part of a painful loss like that, as well. The wins, in an atmosphere like that, in a close match like that, are really sweet.”
It was the first men’s match played on the brand-new Grandstand court at Flushing Meadows and Isner was happy with the welcoming party he and Tiafoe threw for the facility.
The crowd was part of every serve, reacted to every hit and, despite more than three hours in the baking sun, was as loud as ever in the fifth set.
“The atmosphere was amazing, Isner said. “Standing room only in that fifth set. The crowd was going nuts. A lot of people were cheering for him—rightfully so.”
Although it may not have been the easy start he was hoping for at the US Open, Isner couldn’t find it in himself to be too disappointed in the final result of his opening match.
Isner has always been one of the top American players in the game, but he’s faced his fair share of ups and downs this season, dropping more than a handful of close matches late. That’s what made this latest victory so special, holding his own as Tiafoe served for the match in the fifth set.
“You know, I think in that instance I actually probably played the best return game I played all match,” Isner said. “Actually, even though I was pretty haggard out there, I got a jolt of energy when I got it back to 5-4.”
At 31 years old, Isner knows that he’s entered a different stage in his career. He’s the veteran now, a fact that was no more apparent than when he and Tiafoe, the youngest player in the draw, exchanged words after the match. It was a meeting of American tennis present and future and a moment Isner didn’t take for granted.
“He’s got wheels; he’s got the hands; he’s got shots on both sides,” Isner said. “One area, if he improves his second serve
a little bit. But I would certainly buy stock in him right now for sure. He’s a great player.”
Isner has now won 11 straight Grand Slam first-round matches and is 5-0 against Americans, but even after the dramatics of his opening match, he’s far from satisfied. This is only the first act and, as far as Isner is concerned, the best is yet to come in Queens.
“I know with how I play, very good chance I’m going to be in that situation a lot,” Isner said. “Maybe not at a Grand Slam
like this, but, you know, I just stuck with it. I was confident in that fifth set icebreaker. I really believed I was going to win it.”