John Isner is currently in the midst of the hottest stretch of his career, with final-round appearances in three of his four tournaments leading up to the U.S. Open.
Now, after winning his first-round match quite convincingly, he faces Frenchman Gael Monfils in what could be a defining moment for the American.
Over the course of the past few months, Isner has notched wins against world No. 1 Novak Djokovic, former U.S. Open champion Juan Martin del Potro and rising star Milos Raonic, victories that have lifted him back into the top 15 of the ATP World Tour rankings.
But he hasn't encountered a test like the situation he currently faces—playing top-level tennis leading into his home Slam established among the top eight contenders for the title and having to go against one of the most dangerous players on Tour in an early-round match.
Monfils also entered the U.S. Open in good form, having just made the finals of a tournament in Winston-Salem, N.C. He was forced to retire in the final there due to injury, but he also won his first-round match at the Open quite easily and has had time to gear up for this encounter with Isner.
A former top-10 player, Monfils has been dogged by a variety of ailments throughout his career and is currently in the midst of a comeback that's seen him make his way back into the top 40 after his ranking slipped into the triple digits.
Monfils possesses a game where the only thing that can be expected is that he will do the unexpected. He's capable of blasting the ball from anywhere on the court, but he appears to be content grinding away at the baseline, tracking down shots that would be winners against 90 percent of the players on the Tour. He also possesses a solid return game and has one of the bigger serves out there when he chooses to go for it.
However, few players really have as big a serve as Isner, who has established that as the foundation of his game. He's also more than adept at duking it out from the baseline with the ability to hit winners off both wings. And lest one thinks he might be a big lumberer, Isner often does his fair share of ball-tracking, with his height and reach helping him get back a lot of balls.
But the most important asset of Isner's game in his match with Monfils will be patience. He has to be prepared for a lot of balls coming back. He also can’t let the weight of the occasion get to him: Monfils has nothing to lose in this match and will embrace the opportunity to compete in this environment.
For Isner, this year’s U.S. Open could possibly be his best opportunity to make a Slam final. Monfils—a player no one on Tour would welcome playing in the early stages of a Major—presents a formidable roadblock. However, it’s one Isner must be prepared to go through to establish himself as a true contender for one of the game’s biggest titles.