By Chris Starrs, special to EmiratesUSOpen.com
ATLANTA – Andy Roddick withstood a serving clinic and a second-set tiebreaker Saturday to defeat top-seeded John Isner 6-4, 6-7 (5), 6-4 in the semifinals of the BB&T Atlanta Open.
Isner – who has reached the finals of the tournament the last two years only to come up short both times against Mardy Fish – recorded 26 aces, but the fourth-seeded Roddick broke his opponent in the first set and again in the final game of the match to earn a berth in today’s finals, where he’ll face Gilles Muller.
Roddick, who will be in the hunt for his 32nd ATP World Tour crown and is now 4-2 against Isner, said he’s delighted that the next time he sees Isner on the court, they’ll be teammates.
"I’m going to be happy to be on the same side of that serve in doubles, I’ll tell you that," said Roddick of Isner, who will be his doubles partner at the Olympic Games in London.
"If somebody said beforehand that I’d have 26 aces, I would have liked my chances," said Isner. "I knew (Roddick) would serve well and he has served well the whole tournament."
As has been the case five times in the last six days, rain disrupted the proceedings, this time some 25 minutes after the match began. After about 45 minutes, Roddick and Isner returned to the court, with Isner holding a 3-2 advantage. Roddick then proceeded to capture the next three points, including a break at 4-3, and closed out the first set a few minutes later.
The two played evenly in the second set until the tiebreaker, when Isner – who has a 27-10 record in tiebreakers this year -- rolled to a 4-1 lead and held on to equalize the battle at one set apiece.
Roddick, who dropped one service point and later showed his frustration during the tiebreaker by slamming his racket to the ground after he couldn’t handle Isner’s serve at 6-3, said he preferred to avoid tiebreakers anytime, but especially against the 6-foot-9 Isner.
"The goal against everybody is to win as easily as possible," he said. "I don’t think you intentionally try to get in a breaker, ever -- you’re trying to hold serve and break someone. (Against) most people in a breaker, you can recover from losing one service point. Against (Isner), that’s not necessarily the case. I’m not sure I missed a ball besides the service return in the tiebreaker and I still lost it. With his serve and the weapon he has, a lot of time it’s out of your control."
In the third set, both players held serve until Roddick broke Isner on match point.
"I took care of my serve," said Roddick, who has won 10 of his last 11 games. "I did what I was supposed to do. You’re not going to beat John if you get broken a lot. I was able to fight off a little trouble in the first set and I just competed well. I stayed in it, even when I wasn’t happy with what was going on. I kept it together and I competed well."
"I played well enough to win," said Isner, who saw his seven-game winning streak (which included winning in the finals at Newport last weekend) come to a half. "I knew what I had to do, and (Roddick) competed well – he always does. It just didn’t go my way. He was the better player tonight, a little better than me."
Roddick and Muller have met four times, with the American holding a 3-1 lead, including a 6-3, 6-2 victory earlier this year in Miami.
"We played in Miami in the first round this year and I played pretty well," said Roddick. "(The match will be) a little bit similar to (playing Isner) – I’m going to have to put a lot of serves in play and get into the points a little bit. He’ll probably serve-volley a little more than John did tonight and obviously it’s coming from a different angle with him being a lefty.
"Also, I haven’t played a day match yet. I’m sure the conditions will be a bit livelier and it will probably take me a second to adjust to that. I’m excited. I went through a real bad stretch there and now I have a chance to win my second tournament in three tournaments. It feels nice to play well again."
Muller scratches an itch
In Saturday’s semifinals, Gilles Muller was finally able to scratch a seven-year itch.
The 29-year-old Luxembourg native – who arrived in Atlanta on a three-match losing streak -- routed Japan’s Go Soeta 6-4, 6-3 in 72 minutes to advance to his first ATP World Tour finals since 2005 in Los Angeles. He’ll face Andy Roddick in the finals at 3 p.m. today.
In the seven years between final appearances, Muller’s ranking went up and down, matching in part his desire to continue playing. But injuries to both knees changed his attitude and his game.
"The first time my ranking dropped it was pretty much my own fault because I thought maybe some other things might be more important than tennis and I didn’t practice that hard anymore," said Muller, who fell out of the top 100 in August 2004 and didn’t return until September 2008. "The second time I fought myself back in the top 100 and played the quarterfinals of the U.S. Open and got myself injured and couldn’t play for seven months.
"Now I’m just trying to enjoy everything because now I know any second anything can stop everything. I’m coming from far away so I’m just happy to be here again and I’m enjoying every second of it and making the most out of it."
Muller spent more than six months on the injured list in 2009, a situation that rekindled his desire to return to the courts.
"When you don’t have that time off for a long time, you just think of tennis every day and you’re getting tired of it," said Muller, now ranked 63rd. "But when you don’t have it for seven months, then you realize how much you love it and how much you want it. It may be stupid to say, but my injury was one of the best things to happen to me."
This week in Atlanta, the left-hander has enjoyed a tournament mixed with excellent play and equally good fortune. After defeating Marinko Matosevic in the first round, he advanced to the quarterfinals when his second-round opponent, two-time defending tourney champion Mardy Fish, retired due to an ankle injury. Muller bested Matthew Ebden in three sets during Friday’s quarterfinals to qualify for Saturday’s semis.
"Maybe this year I was a little bit luckier in the draw," said Muller. "I was lucky in the second round because Mardy Fish had to retire due to injury. I guess the only difference is that maybe I was a little bit luckier than last year."
The 6-foot-4 Muller – who turned pro in 2001 – left nothing to luck against No. 8 seed Soeda (ranked 54th), recording 17 aces, nailing 74 percent of his first serves and winning 85 percent of his service points.
"I know if I put my first serve in with a high percentage, I’m getting a lot of free points," he said. "I think I didn’t serve that well in the beginning of the week, but yesterday and today was very good."
Muller lost to Isner in the semifinals in 2011 in Atlanta and fell to Isner in the round of 16 here in 2010, but he said he had no preference with regard to facing Isner or Roddick for the tournament crown today.
"I can’t do anything about it anyway, so I’m just happy to be in the final," he said. "No matter who wins, it’s going to be a great player. Both of them play very good. The game plan will stay exactly the same. Since they both are serving pretty good, it’s going to be the same match anyway."
In the doubles semifinals Saturday, Australia’s Matthew Ebden teamed with U.S. Olympian Ryan Harrison to defeat Great Britian’s Colin Fleming and Ross Hutchins, 6-4, 6-4.
At 3 p.m. today, Ebden and Harrison will meet the winner between Michael Russell/Xavier Malisse and Raven Klaasen/Donald Young, who played in the late match Saturday evening.