The last American standing at the 2014 BNP Paribas Open fell Saturday afternoon, as No. 12 John Isner lost to No. 2 Novak Djokovic in three sets, 7-5, 6-7(2), 6-1, in Indian Wells, Calif.
Coming into match, the two had met six times before. Isner's two wins both came in a Masters event on American soil, so there wasn't an intimidation factor to be had. Isner knew he could win this, and he went right after Djokovic as a result.
It's not far off to say that this was one of Isner's best matches over the past few years, even if it came in a losing effort. As the New York Times' Ben Rothenberg pointed out, the 28-year-old displayed a patience on the baseline that's usually absent in his game:
In addition, there were more than a few moments when he could've crumbled, but instead, Isner kept fighting and clawed his way back into the match.
But the first set demonstrated why Djokovic is one of the best players in the world. Give him a tiny opening, and it's game over.
In the 10th game of the first set, Isner had three break-point opportunities while up 5-4. However, he couldn't shut the door, and the "Djoker" not only held serve, but he also followed by breaking Isner's serve in the next game, taking a 6-5 lead:
Djokovic would win the next game to take the first set.
To his credit, Isner didn't fall apart in the second. In fact, he came back even stronger.
The shoe was on the other foot. Rather than Isner looking to put away Djokovic, it was the other way around. Twice the Djoker was on serve to win the match, and twice Isner broke, per Sports Illustrated's Beyond the Baseline:
You always know Isner is going to serve well, but what was so surprising about the second set was how well he was hitting his backhand, per Erik Gudris of Adjusting the Net. Backhand winners have rarely been synonymous with Isner's game, but he was nailing them in that second set.
The crowd at Indian Wells came alive after that second set, and Isner was brimming was confidence. Perhaps he could pull off the huge upset.
But by the time the third set rolled around, he faded quickly. That's the problem when playing Djokovic. He's an unstoppable cyborg who knows no physical limits. And for a player with as limited a skill set as Isner, sooner or later, you'll run out of ideas.
Also working against Isner was his knee. The issue first cropped up in the second set, but it then became more prevalent in the third:
Between Djokovic's unrelenting nature and Isner's bad wheel, the third set was over quickly.
Djokovic will play Roger Federer in the final on Sunday. The two have played 32 times, with Federer owning the head-to-head advantage, 17-15. Federer also won the last match, at the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships in late February.
The news isn't all bad for Isner. As Bill Dwyre of the Los Angeles Times reported, the American will climb back into the top 10, even with the semifinal loss. In the morass that is American men's tennis, Isner stands head and shoulders above the rest, and not just because he's 6'10" tall.