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Isner advances — barely — at the Delray Beach Open

Michael Russell climbs the wall to return a smash from John Isner during their match Tuesday at the Delray Beach Open.

Michael Russell climbs the wall to return a smash from John Isner during their match Tuesday at the Delray Beach Open.

By Palm Beach

John Isner during his match with Michael Russell.
John Isner during his match with Michael Russell.

DELRAY BEACH — For most of nearly two hours Tuesday evening, it was Michael Russell, not John Isner, who looked like America’s top-ranked tennis player. For most of three sets, Russell outplayed, outhit, out-smarted his younger, taller opponent.

But in the end, it wasn’t enough, as Isner managed to put his game together in time to beat Russell 4-6, 7-6 (7-3) 6-4 at the Delray Beach Open by the Venetian Las Vegas. Isner, who started the tournament as the 13th ranked player in the world and the No. 2 seed at Delray, didn’t break Russell’s service until the next to last game of the match, benefiting from one of Russell’s few mistakes — an untimely double fault.

“Actually Michael played well,” Isner said afterwards. “He was doing some stuff that was giving me a lot of trouble.”

Russell, on the other hand, ranks 85th in the ATP World Tour rankings. Officially, at 5-8, he gives up 15 inches and more than 70 pounds to Isner, and lacks Isner’s power. But he made few mistakes during the evening and consistently frustrated Isner,  dropping shots over the net and down the lines where Isner had no chance to reach it. And often when Isner did reach it, he couldn’t hit it cleanly.

At one point, Isner, obviously unhappy with his own play throughout the match, smashed the ball clear out of the stadium. At another point, he asked the umpire for a review of a shot that was out of bounds by at least a foot. When the umpire took him seriously, Isner quickly added that the request was a joke.

After Isner took the tiebreaker in the second set, each player held serve until it was 4-4 in the third. Isner finally broke Russell, with an assist from his opponent.

“I tried to get ahead of him,” Isner said. “He threw in the double fault, which I’ll take every day.”

Isner took advantage of the opening. He powered a 131 mph serve that Russell couldn’t handle. Isner aced the next serve at 122 mph. Russell hit Isner’s final shot into the net, ending the match.

The match was Isner’s first in a month, and he said he felt a step or two slow. He turned an ankle in early January playing in the Hopman Cup in Perth, Australia. The injury later forced him to retire in his first-round match at the Australian Open.

Isner said the ankle held up throughout the match, which lasted an hour and 55 minutes. Because of that, he said he would have been happy walking off the court even if he had lost the match.



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FEBRUARY 18, 2014 click to go home
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