By Ron Cioffi/BB&T Atlanta Open
With the definitely partisan Georgia crowd on his side yelling "Go Bulldog," John Isner put his third-set disappointments behind him and slammed the door on Kevin Anderson. In his third BB&T Atlanta Open final, Isner rode the wave of University of Georgia fans and won 6-7 (3), 7-6 (2), 7-6 (2).
The former UGA Bulldog had Manny Diaz, longtime UGA men’s tennis coach, in the stands and providing support. He certainly echoed the local Atlanta crowd is standing solidly behind the man who was born in North Carolina and lives in Florida. But, on his way through the Peach state, he became the great men’s player out of the Athens campus.
With dogged play, Isner stood his ground, saving all 11 break points that Anderson threw at him. In tenth game of the first set, Anderson couldn’t convert two set points. At 1-1 in the second set, Isner saved two more break points. Additionally, in his opening game of the final set, he stared down four break points, finally converting in the third deuce.
In the final tiebreak, Isner took control early, and raced to a 6-1 lead on two mini-breaks. A backhand unforced error by Anderson finished the longest best-of-three final on the ATP World Tour this year, at 2:54.
The match reached new heights and made history as being the tallest match in ATP history with the 6’10" Isner and the 6’8" Anderson.
It was the smaller of the two who controlled the match. Anderson kept up a steady ground game to counteract Isner’s power. Overall, Anderson was in control, building up the drama and pressure on his opponent. Clearly, the local crowd was on Isner’s side as he repeatedly dug himself out of holes. The last two tiebreaks swung the overall points total to Isner (125-123) but Anderson clearly had the better of play leading up to the tiebreaks.
Anderson said, "There was one point in the tiebreak that I felt a little heavy. It was one of those types of matches. I was happy with the way I played. It just it came down to just a few points."
Isner leads the tour with a substantial 26-7 tiebreak record. In the third set, Inser got the mini-break on the first point and then continued to pressure Anderson to hit clutch shots, which didn’t happen.
"I’ve got to get into more returns games," Anderson added. "Not too many guys serve the way John did today." Isner banged in 24 aces and one of his second services made the sizable Anderson jump to get to a high bouncer.
Isner looked at the breath of his week in Atlanta. "This is a tournament I could have been out in my first match (against Christian Harrison). I lived on the edge all week and seemed to come through each and every time.
"I’ve been on the wrong edge of a final that close before … having match points, having a lot of chances. It feels good to be on other end of that. I never wavered. I believed, even at love-40, that I could hold on. It seems I came through for the good each of every time."
Isner’s number will improve with his seventh trophy. He’ll jump from No. 22 in the world to a spot above Anderson, who is currently No. 21. Additionally, the American leads the Emirates Airline US Open Series race with 70 points. Anderson earned 45 points.