Legg Mason Finalist Isner Serves Up a Strong Effort

By Liz Clarke
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, August 28, 2007

FLUSHING MEADOWS, N.Y., Aug. 27 -- American John Isner, who announced his arrival in the top ranks of professional tennis by reaching the final of Washington's Legg Mason Tennis Classic earlier this month, made a smashing debut in the U.S. Open on Monday, blasting 34 aces past Jarkko Nieminen, the tournament's 26th seed, to advance to the second round.

The 6-foot-9 Isner scored the 6-7 (7-4), 7-6 (7-4), 7-6 (7-5), 6-4 upset with a formula that has bedeviled higher-ranked opponents since he turned pro in June after leading Georgia to an undefeated season and the NCAA championship.

He never lost his serve and showed an uncanny knack for producing aces or service winners on the seven break points he faced. And he maintained his composure during the tiebreaks, flashing a mental toughness that's uncommon for a player with so little experience at the top ranks of the sport.

With the victory, Isner inches one stop closer to a match he can only fantasize about: a third-round meeting with world No. 1 Roger Federer, who sailed through his opener Monday against American qualifier Scoville Jenkins in straight sets.

But first, he'll have to get past 146th-ranked Rik De Voest of South Africa. Isner said he didn't know De Voest or his game, adding quickly that he didn't mean to imply that De Voest wasn't a good player.

"I just don't know anyone here," he said with a self-effacing laugh.

Nieminen, 26, who has competed on the pro tour seven years, showered the Greensboro, N.C., native with praise afterward.

"This is the best serve I have seen on the court," Nieminen said. "When it was tight -- when I had break points -- he always made the first serve, every single time. It was very difficult to read his serve. And even if you have such a good serve, it's mentally demanding to win matches against top players."

It has been a heady few months for Isner, who was ranked outside the top 800 when he was granted a wild-card entry in the Legg Mason this summer. He advanced to the final, where he lost to Andy Roddick, by winning five consecutive matches with third-set tiebreaks. He has since vaulted more than 600 spots in the ranking, placing him inside the top 200. And his confidence, he said, has never been higher.

Given the hand-wringing over the state of American tennis of late, Monday was a promising day at the U.S. Open. Also advancing to the second round was American wild card Donald Young, 18, who defeated Chris Guccione of Australia, 6-7 (7-2), 6-3, 6-2, 6-3.

Young, the world's former top-ranked junior, took a different path to the ATP tour than Isner, turning pro at 15, long before his body and his confidence were developed. He had a rocky start, losing his first 11 matches.

Young's breakthrough came last week, when he beat fellow American Amer Delic at a tournament in New Haven, Conn. Young held a 4-2 lead in the third set against fourth-ranked Nikolay Davydenko in the second round when his mind drifted to what he was going to do when he won the match. That, he realizes now, was a mistake.

Still, the first-round victory in New Haven did wonders when he took the court Monday.

"I wasn't oh-for-anything," Young said Monday. "I had a win. It was a big confidence booster."

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