Everyone knows that Roger Federer, at the age of 34, is playing some of the best tennis of his storied career. He stormed through the Masters 1000 event in Cincinnati, beating Andy Murray and then No. 1 Novak Djokovic in the final. Through three matches at the US Open, Federer, again up to No. 2 in the rankings, is looking close to invincible. Has hasn’t lost a set.
But neither has the American John Isner, who will take the court against the Swiss maestro on Labor Day. No. 13 Isner, a 2011 quarterfinalist here, has notched three routine victories to get to the fourth round, has been quietly and cleanly cruising through the draw – or as quietly as a 6-foot-10 American can in his home Slam. Isner has not lost serve at the US Open since 2013 (his last defeat here, to Philipp Kohlschreiber in 2014, came in three tiebreaks). Isner, known for playing long matches and lots of tiebreaks (he has played a total of 33 breakers just in Flushing Meadows), hasn’t played a single tiebreak in his three matches thus far. The American has snuffed out all break points against him, and he has played very clean ball, registering 141 winners (including 62 aces) versus just 61 unforced errors.
The match will come down to how well Isner can serve against Federer, of course. Federer seems to enjoy returning against big servers. In three matches, the Swiss second seed has broken 51 percent of the time. If anyone is likely to break Isner, it’s Federer. However, he may not be so keen on employing his recently adopted SABR attack of rushing the service line to half volley the return. Even Isner’s second serve is averaging 109 mph. Isner has won an astonishing 89 percent of his first-serve points through three rounds. He is unlikely to register numbers like that against Federer, so Big John will most likely have to hope to make it to a few tiebreaks if he’s to have any real shot of upsetting Federer. The all-time leading Slam winner has been mad-rushing the net, with great success (winning 73 percent of his net approaches) and he will likely do the same against Isner.
Federer has won four of their five matches, including the last three on hard courts. The one time Isner snatched a victory was a Davis Cup tie in Switzerland. This time Isner will have the home-court advantage; will it be enough? This could be fun, and tight, but expect Federer in current top form to get through.