ISNER ENDS RUN OF AUGER-ALIASSIME TO GET BACK TO MIAMI OPEN FINAL
By Tucker Verdi
Miami Gardens, FL — John Isner’s incredible run to the 2018 Miami Open men’s singles title was a memorable moment in a 10-month span of career and life-changing events. He got married in December 2017 and his wife gave birth to their first child in September of the next year . Sandwiched in between, was a run to the Wimbledon semifinals and a win in Miami to give him a career-best title.
Given the Miami Open championship in 2018 was his only Masters 1000 title, he openly mused about how unlikely it would be for him to repeat that same success.
“Chances are I’m not going to defend it,” Isner said. “I have only won one [Masters 1000 title] in my whole career, and I have probably played a hundred of them… so hopefully I can eat those words. I have been doing it so far.”
Well, John Isner is headed back to the Miami Open final. Through five matches at the 2019 Miami Open presented by Itaú, the American No. 1 has yet to drop a set — including in his semifinal win 7-6(3), 7-6(4) over qualifier Felix Auger-Aliassime.
Auger-Aliassime, an 18-year-old qualifier from Quebec, was up a break on the defending champion and serving for the first set. That’s right — up a break on John Isner, the same man whose first serves regularly reach speeds of 130 to 140 miles per hour.
Unfortunately for Auger-Aliassime, the moment seemed to get the better of him. Serving at 5-4, the young Canadian, who had yet to face a break point in the match, double faulted three times and found himself staring down 15-40 and two break chances for Isner, which the big man converted.
“Maybe he was a little bit fatigued,” Isner answered when asked if he thought experience played a factor in Auger-Aliassime failing to serve the set out. “Which is not an experience thing, because he came through qualifying. So prior to this match he had played three more matches than I have. So could have been a little bit of inexperience and maybe a little bit of fatigue, also.”
And then it happened again. Auger-Aliassime was serving for the second set — once more up a rare break on Isner — but his bid to send the match to a decider was thwarted as Isner broke back in an almost identical turn of events as the first.
The moment, seemingly too big for Auger-Aliassime, was just right for Isner as he advances to his second consecutive Miami Open final. His win last year, the biggest by far of his career, came after a lot of heartbreak in Masters 1000 finals. He had finished runner-up three times, losing to Roger Federer in Indian Wells in 2012, Rafael Nadal in Cincinnati in 2013, and Andy Murray at the Paris Masters in 2016.
2018 turned out to be Isner’s year as he captured the Butch Buchholz Trophy in a thrilling three-set comeback win over Alexander Zverev. Now he appears poised to do it again, as he has found his comfort zone underneath the South Florida sun — and an ability to block out the pressure that might’ve consumed him earlier in his career.
“I think someone told me if I lost my first match here, I’d be 12 in the world. Like, big deal,” Isner quipped to laughs in his press conference. That’s really good… I mean, if this was eight years ago, I might have felt that pressure. But now, I don’t ever think about [it].”
Isner will play the winner of Friday night’s semifinal matchup between No. 4 seed Roger Federer and No. 20 seed Denis Shapovalov. While Isner and Shapovalov have never played on tour, Federer owns a 6-2 advantage in head-to-head matches with the American.
Either way, Isner will get a chance to lift the Butch Buchholz Trophy once again. He knows the odds aren’t in his favor, but he also knows that life for him is more than wins and losses now.
“If things don’t go well, I’m on the next flight home and I get to be with my family. That’s a very, very good consolation prize.”