Isner, Querrey Leave Americans With Mixed Feelings

Rob YorkSenior Writer ISeptember 6, 2009

NEW YORK - SEPTEMBER 02:  Sam Querrey and John Isner of the United States talk during their match against Wayne Odesnik and Michael Shabaz of the United States during day three of the 2009 U.S. Open at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center on September 2, 2009 in Flushing neighborhood of the Queens borough of New York City.  (Photo by Nick Laham/Getty Images)

John Isner and Sam Querrey’s similarities don’t stop at their country of origin.

The two Americans are much alike in size: The ATP Web site lists Querrey in the ATP’s heavyweight division at 6’6” and 200 pounds, while Isner might require a new classification altogether at 6’9” and well over 200 pounds.

Therefore, their strengths and weaknesses as players also have much in common, as both play serve-based games, and can knock the fuzz off a fresh Penn with their forehand wings, but neither would have much of a chance against most of the men’s top 10 in the 100-meter dash.

Querrey, with two titles to his name, and Isner, with none yet, are largely unknown among the general American public and the world’s tennis fans at the moment. However, there may be some benefit in that status, as it prevents the unrealistic expectations created by past American players named Pete, Andre, Jimbo and Mac. 

Both the 24-year-old Isner and 21-year-old Querrey have been on the radar of U.S. tennis fans for several years, though, even if neither has known much success outside of the American hard courts. Both men had been coming on strong during this hard court season, and were very hopeful for a breakthrough at this year’s Open.

On Saturday, both men saw a chance for just such a result. Querrey’s opponent would be Roland Garros finalist and No. 12 seed Robin Soderling of Sweden. Much of Soderling’s summer from Paris to post-Wimbledon was incendiary, but his performance on the hard courts had been lackluster due to injury, so it appeared an opportunity was ripe for Querrey.

Isner’s obstacle loomed larger: No. 5 and fellow countryman Andy Roddick stood in his way. Roddick, the Wimbledon finalist, had put up one of the most solid years of his career, and had trounced his first two opponents in the Open draw.

After Saturday’s results, American tennis fans can’t help but feel ambivalent. Against a very similar opponent, Querrey was thoroughly outplayed in his 6-2, 7-5, 6-7, 6-1 defeat. The towering American put 66 percent of his first serves in play against the hulking Swede’s 52, but Soderling won 88 percent of his first serve points to Querrey’s 71.

Even worse, Querrey won only 36 percent of second serve points. It took a tremendous effort for Querrey to even take one set, as the third went to 8-6 in the tiebreak, but Soderling quickly ushered him out in the fourth.

However, against a fellow American considered one of the three or four men most likely to lift the US Open trophy next Sunday, Isner turned in the performance of a lifetime.

The tallest, biggest serving American of them all wasn’t even the top singles college player during his four years of play at the University of Georgia; in his final year he finished No. 2 behind the University of Virginia’s Somdev Devvarman—who is currently ranked outside the top 100 on the ATP Tour. And yet, against the man who won the Open in 2003 and finished that year at No. 1, Isner was the cooler competitor.

He had to be; Roddick broke his serve twice and only lost serve once. Roddick played a cleaner match, actually winning 162 points to Isner’s 155.

But Isner, as they saying goes, was better on the points that counted, winning the tiebreaker in the match’s opening set, and then its final one. The former Georgia Dawg also proved that fortune favors the brave, as he struck 90 winners to Roddick’s 51 and made 52 unforced errors to the higher-ranked American’s 20.

Both men had an average first serve speed of 122 mph, but Isner’s second averaged out to an intrepid 109 mph, nine miles per hour faster than Roddick’s.

The day after Taylor Dent’s inspiring win over Ivan Navarro that also went into a fifth-set tiebreak, this was the second match-of-the-tournament contender to feature an aspiring American champ.

The result brought the New York fans to their feet when Roddick’s last passing shot attempt went into the net. On the day after, though, most American fans (outside of UG alumni) are going to be feeling a lot less overjoyed: Roddick would have been the favorite against Fernando Verdasco in the fourth round, and would have had approximately even odds against Novak Djokovic in the quarters had both men gotten there.

Isner can win those matches if this play continues, but he will be an underdog both times. Isner’s win was certainly good for him, but following his defeat of Roddick, Querrey’s loss to Soderling, and James Blake’s fizzling out against Tommy Robredo, there isn’t a lot else for fans of American tennis to celebrate.

The two towering Americans gave their countrymen a lot to hope for going into Saturday, but now all their hopes rest on Isner and Dent.