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Isner schools NCAA champ

By Richard Osborn
Tuesday, August 26, 2014

WHAT HAPPENED: In a matchup of two former NCAA No. 1s and all-Americans, No. 13 seed John Isner served his way past wildcard entrant Marcos Giron on Tuesday 7-6, 6-2, 7-6 to advance to the second round of the US Open. The onetime University of Georgia standout dismissed the reigning NCAA champ and former UCLA Bruin in two hours.

Appropriately, the power-serving Isner opened the match with a 127 mph ace out wide, the first of 26 that the top-ranked American man had in the match. He registered 11 in the first set alone. Giron, 21, and a good foot shorter than his 6-foot-10 opponent, showed some resolve by saving four set points to force a first-set tiebreak. But Isner is the ATP Tour leader in tiebreaks won with a 34-17 mark this season and claimed the first-set breaker 7-5.

“That first set really could have gone either way,” said Isner. “I thought Marcos played very well, but I thought I played well today, too. I knew it was going to be a tough match going in.”

Isner, who showed no signs of a left ankle injury that forced him to withdraw from the Winston-Salem quarterfinals last week, scored the first break of the match to start the second set and was in control from there.  Giron did make Isner work for the win in the third set, at one point successfully lobbing a ball over his altitudinous opponent’s head, but it only prolonged the outcome. Isner sealed the match by cruising through the third-set tiebreak, 7-2, punctuated by a big forehand winner.

Isner, 29, surrendered just 12 points on his serve, and finished with a winners-to-unforced errors ratio of 60-17. Giron finished with 41 winners and 24 unforced errors.

"It's tough playing another American, especially at the US Open, because one of us is going to go home," said Isner. "It's going to happen a lot in the future when I'm playing guys that are younger than me that are American. It's a lot of pressure for me, I guess, because I'm expected to win that match. But at the same time it's good. It's good competition."

It was fitting that the No. 419-ranked Giron was making his Grand Slam debut in Arthur Ashe Stadium.  Ashe won the NCAA singles title while at UCLA, his coming back in 1965.  Giron pulled off that feat this past May, and recently announced that he will forgo his senior season in order to join the pro tour on a full-time basis. He was one of five NCAA singles titlists in this year’s US Open draw, a sizeable group that surprisingly does not include Isner, who was a runner-up in 2007. 

WHAT IT MEANS:  It’s no secret that the 6-foot-10 power player’s serve is among the most lethal in the game, if not the most.  But if Isner is going to surpass a career-best quarterfinal showing here in 2011, he’ll need to ramp up his return game, too.  He’ll need to become a more adept breaker of serves.  “I return my best when I'm most confident and not really thinking out there and just going for my shots,” says Isner, who has two titles on the year, both coming on hard courts (Auckland, Atlanta).  “When I get a little mental and start massaging the ball around, not wanting to miss — I can't win like that.  But that's certainly a factor with me.  That's happened a lot with me before.  But I certainly feel like I’m returning in the right direction.”

QUESTION: John Isner has lost to Germany’s Philipp Kohlschreiber in each of the past two US Opens.  Will he have a shot at redemption in the third round in 2014?