One week after it began, the ATP Masters 1000 in Cincinnati reaches an exciting end, we have a wonderful mouth-watering final ahead of us. Rafael Nadal continues his most inspiring [and to a lot of Federer/Djokovic fans puzzling] comeback. He is yet to lose a match on hard courts this year. If you had bet your house on such an event 12 months back, you can safely assume you would be making enough money to buy the Caesar’s Palace in Las Vegas. Congratulations to Rafa and his fans on this wonderful comeback. This is the 1st time he is in a Cincinnati final and waiting for him in the final is an American Tennis player – John Isner.
An American being in a Cincinnati final would not have been big news even a few years ago, when Andy Roddick – one of the most under appreciated player of the last decade, was doing what he did best – proudly carry the American flag in a generation where Americans started turning away from tennis towards more exciting and lucrative sports like Football [American] and Basket Ball. John Isner has taken over that mantle from Andy Roddick and in his own way the gentle giant is contributing to the American presence in men’s tennis. Big John, as a wonderful friend of mine calls him, has achieved many little things [titles in various tournaments], some wonderful things [Davis cup wins over Federer/Tsonga] and some terrific achievements – beating Djokovic on hardcourts multiple times in the last 2 years. [something even Federer and Nadal have not managed]. Of course, Isner’s biggest achievement, in a rather good way will be the marathon at Wimbledon. We can all safely agree that Big John has carved a place for himself in tennis history.
Tomorrow Isner will have the unenviable task of taking on a rampaging Rafa Nadal who seems to somehow keep escaping the clutches of these wonderful predators called shot-makers – Baby Federer Dimitrov, Real Federer Roger Federer and Tomas Berdych. In many ways Rafael Nadal is like this wounded deer/game and the hunters/predators including the Alpha Male of the Tennis Kingdom – Roger Federer could not pin down. Can Big John finish off the wounded warrior who has been softened up by his fellow shot-makers? The answer is – yes he can. He has beaten Djokovic – the current King of Hardcourts and No.1 player for the best part of the last 2 years. He has beaten another US Open champ Juan Martin Delpotro. Surely he can beat Nadal. Will he? That is the tougher question.
First things first, Isner is definitely the underdog in this match. That is the bad news. The good news is, the match is on Isner’s racquet. If Big John can do what he always does and what he has done so well and serve from a tree, the Cincinnati court and the hot afternoon conditions will make his game too much for even a great competitor like Rafa to handle. One of the less analyzed things in tennis, which I hope to contribute to – as my Tennis Analyst career evolves – is how the night and cooler conditions make for slower/high bouncing courts than the hot and less damp conditions during mid-day in which the same courts are quicker and therefore the ball skids and bounces less. Isner has served brilliantly in the last 2 matches. He has saved 15 out of the 17 break points and against one of the greatest returners of all time – Novak Djokovic – Isner saved a mind-boggling 9 out of 10 break points. Rafa Nadal does some things better than Djokovic, but one of the things Djokovic has mostly done better than Nadal is return better – in particular on the relatively faster surfaces like Cincinnati. Today, against Berdych, Rafa won 8 out of 47 1st serves from Berdych. That is 17% and a performance like that tomorrow could give Rafa his 1st hard court defeat of this year.
Nadal, himself has been serving up a storm these last 2 weeks and many of the Rafa faithful see glimpses of his USO 2010 serving mania in his present serving hysteria. However Rafa served up an ugly note of caution to his well-wishers with a dismal serving performance in the 2nd set. 5 double faults! You read that right. 5 double faults. Much like Djokovic in Montreal, Rafa served ugly yesterday. Fortunately for him and his legions of fans, Berdych did not capitalize. I am not sure Isner will be so generous. Berdych is a better returner than Isner, but Isner is terrific at barging through the door if you give him a small opening. This is what Isner will have to rinse wash and repeat tomorrow. He absolutely blasted open the door against Del Potro, a lot like Mr. Schwarzenegger or Bruce Willis in those unforgettable action movies of the 90s. He will have to atleast match that performance to have a genuine shot at the title.
I am a big fan of aggressive players and there are few tennis players more aggressive than an American big-serving tennis player like Big John. I will be rooting for him to get the biggest title of his career and put my Yankee cap on. Come on Big John, let us bring the biggest tennis title to the American shores since Andy Roddick won the last of his ATP Masters 1000 title in Miami 2010. [Please correct me if I got the wrong]. I hope he uses the noisy Yankee crowd like Roger Federer did during his memorable run this week. My pick: John Isner in 2 sets or Rafael Nadal in 3 sets. Either way, I hope John Isner will start winning more fans all over the world with his big game and an even bigger heart.