20 Feb Isner Survives 3-Setter To Advance To Quarters
Isner Survives 3-Setter To Advance To Quarters
Red Hot Cilic Smashing Through Draw
By STEVE DORSEY
DELRAY BEACH – John Isner, playing in only his second match in more than a month, avoided a gallant upset bid by Dudi Sela of Israel by winning a drama-packed third-set tiebreaker Thursday night at the ATP World Tour Delray Beach Open.
There was another surprising development here, however, at the Delray Beach Tennis center. The injury bug struck again when No. 3 seed Kei Nishikori of Japan was forced to retire because of a hip injury during the first set of his second-round match, the fifth player this week forced to retire from a match because of illness or injury.
Isner, ranked No. 13 in the world and the No. 2 seed here, squandered four match points in the third set after leading 4-1, but the 6-foot-10 American rallied from a 5-2 deficit to prevail in the tiebreaker for a 3-6, 6-1, 7-6(5) victory that earned him a spot in the quarterfinals here for the third consecutive year. He will face American qualifier Rhyne Williams in the final quarterfinal match Friday night.
Williams, who never has faced Isner before, reached his second ATP quarterfinal with a 6-7(7), 6-4, 6-2 win against wild card Marcos Baghdatis in Thursday’s nightcap match.
“I have nothing to lose, so I can kind of swing for the fences,” Williams said. “The wind was insane, but I was lucky today. It kind of went my way.”
[frame align=”left”][/frame]Things almost did not go Isner’s way.
“More times than not, when I’m up 4-1, I close it out,” said Isner, who is 5-0 in his three-set matches this season but is playing in his first tournament since exiting the Australian Open with an ankle injury last month. “It definitely didn’t need to go to 5-5 when I was up 4-1. I put a lot of stress on myself when I do that.”
Isner said his previously injured ankle is “fine,” and he needed it to be against Sela to rally from a set down to win a match for the fourth time this season.
“He’s so quick and he makes a lot of balls,” Isner said of Sela, who is ranked No. 75 in the world. “He’s a tough out. This tournament is as tough as I’ve ever seen it.”
Sela, who is more than a foot shorter than Isner, said that he “felt good” about his chances coming into the match against Isner.
“The thing about John is, you have to put the first serve in, or he’ll crush you on the second serve,” said Sela, who was good on 63 percent of his first serves, about the same as Isner. “It’s a completely different game. From the baseline, I thought I was better than him.”
Nishikori, who was trailing Teymuraz Gabashvili of Russia 4-2 when he decided to stop the match, said the injury is to his left hip flexor and that he experienced discomfort for the first time during his first-round win on Tuesday in which he stretched his win-loss record this season to 12-2.
“I tried to play, but if you’re not 100 percent, it’s tough,” said Nishikori, who is ranked No. 15 in the world after winning in Memphis last week. “I couldn’t do anything today. It’s going to take some time to recover. It’s shocking this happened, especially since I’ve been playing well.”
[frame align=”left”][/frame]The injury bug also caused Canadian Vasek Pospisil, who was the No. 5 seed, to withdraw because of a back injury before the start of the tournament.
Nishikori, whose win Sunday in Memphis was his fourth ATP title, was a passenger in a car involved in a fender bender on his way to dinner Wednesday night, but the 2008 Delray champion said that he didn’t think the injury was aggravated in the accident. Nishikori also had to retire because of injury in his first-round match here last year.
Gabashvili, who is ranked No. 65 in the world, advances to the quarterfinals on Friday and will face No. 7 seed Marin Cilic of Croatia. Cilic, ranked No. 29 on the World Tour, earned a berth in the quarterfinals earlier in the day when he defeated American wild card Ryan Harrison 6-3, 6-4. It was Cilic’s 20th straight win over an American dating back to the Australian Open in 2008.
“I’m lucky today, for sure,” Gabashvili said. “I think Kei is one of the best here (this week). I was ready for a fight.”
Cilic, like Nishikori, entered the Delray event on a roll and does not appear to be slowing down after winning his first two matches here in straight sets. His win against Harrison is his 15th this season, tied for the most on the ATP World Tour, and improves his record to 15-4 in 2014.
“I’m playing more aggressive,” said Cilic, whose resume includes 10 ATP titles and a career-high ranking of No. 9 in 2010. “I have to be pleased with the way my form is going. All of the work with Goran (Ivanisevic) is paying off now.”
Cilic said he hopes to climb back into the Top 10 rankings this year, but that his game is different compared to 2010.
“It feels great to be playing at that level again,” Cilic said. “I have more confidence in my serve. I can take more risks.”
In other action Thursday afternoon, upstart Americans Sekou Bangoura and Vahid Mirzadeh were ousted by Samuel Groth and Max Mirnyi 7-6(5), 6-4 in doubles. Bangoura and Mirzadeh upset the No. 2-seeded team of Eric Butorac and Raven Klaasen on Wednesday. Harrison and fellow American Jack Sock filled out the final spot in the doubles semifinals with a 6-4, 7-5 win against Santiago Gonzalez and Scott Lipsky.
The other two quarterfinal matches will be played Friday afternoon, beginning at 12:30 p.m. (EST) when No. 4 seed Kevin Anderson of South Africa takes on Aussie Marinko Matosevic in a rematch of the 2012 Delray Beach final. American qualifier Steve Johnson, who upset No. 1 seed Tommy Haas on Wednesday, faces No. 6 seed Feliciano Lopez of Spain in the other afternoon match.