John Isner wasn’t even supposed to be in the main draw of the 2007 Citi Open. By the end of the week, the American captivated fans with a dream run to the final and established a pattern of producing clutch tennis in tie-breaks that has remained a staple of his career.
Isner, then 22 and sitting at No. 416 in the FedEx ATP Rankings, completed his college tennis career a month earlier at the University of Georgia. He expected to play the qualifying draw in Washington, D.C., but received a main draw wild card at the last minute after Fernando Gonzalez withdrew due to a back injury.
Competing in only his second tour-level event, Isner put the opportunity to use and scored his maiden ATP Tour win with a 4-6, 6-4, 7-6(3) victory against Tim Henman. The match provided most fans with their first glimpse at Isner’s rocket serve, which regularly exceeded 135 miles per hour.
But he was far from finished. Isner scored four more third-set tie-break wins against Benjamin Becker, Wayne Odesnik, Tommy Haas and Gael Monfils to advance to the championship match. Monfils served for their semi-final battle at 6-5 in the third set, but Isner fought back and eventually collapsed to the ground in jubilation after prevailing 6-7(4), 7-6(1), 7-6(2). The American’s inspired run made him the first player to win five consecutive third-set tiebreaks at a tour-level event.
“If I had one win this week I would have called it successful, let alone five,” Isner said. “I would have been proud of just having a good showing against Henman.
“I was able to pull that match out and then it was just a snowball thing. I was getting more and more confident.”
Isner was finally brought back to earth against Andy Roddick. In a battle of big serves and crunching forehands, the top seed secured the lone service break in the opening set and held his nerve to close out a 6-4, 7-6(2) win. Despite the loss, Isner was more than satisfied with his week.
“I’ll always remember playing Andy Roddick in an ATP Tour final. You can never take that away from me,” Isner said. “It’s a dream come true, an unbelievable honour. I’ll never, ever forget it.”
The run in Washington, D.C. propelled Isner inside the Top 200. He made his Top 100 debut just six months later and has remained a perennial staple on Tour ever since.
Did You Know?
According to the ATP Performance Zone, Isner ranks second in the Open Era with 438 tour-level tie-break victories (438-284). The American only trails Roger Federer, who has won 460 (460-244).