John Isner Defeats Roger Federer BNP Paribas Masters Open Three Unsurprising Things

John Isner

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John Isner’s (13) 7-6(3), 3-6, 7-6 (5) defeat of Roger Federer (3) in the last sixteen of the BNP Paribas Masters Paris Bercy will certainly go down as an upset, but the win should not come as a complete surprise. The Tennis Review takes a look at three reasons why.

1. Slow hard courts suit Isner’s game.

Isner has had some of his biggest career wins on slow hard courts most famously against Novak Djokovic at Indian Wells ’12 (also in a final set tiebreaker) and versus Kei Nishikori this season in Miami.

Isner has also beaten Federer in a big match on slow courts before. That win came at the 2012 Davis Cup on Indoor Clay, a surface not too unlike the one at the BNP Paribas Masters Paris-Bercy.

Slow hard courts play to Isner’s strengths- his serve and forehand- and they compensate for his weaknesses- his movement and his backhand. That combo is as lethal as Isner’s first serve and forehand off a short ball.

Isner’s serve is so big he can hit through any court, and on fast courts he gets plenty of free points, but the balls that do come back at the hands of skilled returners are harder for him to play as they fly past him, feeding on the pace of his serve.

On slower courts more balls are likely to come back from the Isner serves, but the American has both more time to anticipate them and a greater chance of tracking them down and taking them on with one of his huge forehands.

The more time he has to set up the forehand, the better he can execute that shot, and while on a faster court Isner may have to hit fewer forehands to get the winner, on a slow court Isner has that invaluable extra step to get to more balls, construct the point and then unleash on that forehand side.

Isner also has the advantage of a high bounce on slow hard which means he can crunch the ball on the rise and inside the Paris-Bercy stadium he can do it in perfect conditions.

The world no. 13 can also protect his weaker side, the backhand, by running round it and hitting inside out forehands which allow him to pull his opponent wide and move inside the court.

Inside the court on a short ball with time on his hands, that is right where you do not want Isner. Isner also has the opportunity to move forward and show off his formidable volleying skills and put to work his underrated touch.

2. Isner out-attacked Federer

The only tennis that could beat Federer in his current form indoors, the kind that saw him fight past Nadal in Basel, would be the athletic offense-defense combo employed by the likes of Djokovic and Murray or someone who managed to out attack him with the kind of tennis only Isner, Berdych, Wawrinka or Tsonga could produce .

Isner certainly produced it today, and then some, striking down 27 aces to Federer’s 13 and making 67% of his first serves to Federer’s 60.

Isner also hit 54 winners to 30 errors (+24) and won 25 of 38 points of the net. Compare that to Federer’s 43-24 (+19) and 13/17. Both men put together impressive numbers, but Isner did something few players have achieved the past few years on the tour- he out-attacked Federer.

Earlier in the week, the Swiss had said that winning on the slow Bercy courts could be achieved by attacking in the right way, and it would seem Isner had the same idea.

3. Isner likes Tiebreaks. A lot.

Going into the match, Isner had won 37 of the 60 tiebreakers he had played this year. That must have given him some confidence against Federer.

The Swiss did not put a foot wrong in his service games saving all six break points against him, including some crucial ones in the first game of the second set which could have put him a set and a break down.

Isner’s only chance to beat Federer was to win the tiebreaks where he executed to perfection the aspects of his game he had control over – holding his serve and taking risks on the return, especially on the second serve which Federer was tentative on in the final set breaker.

Isner, though, was anything but tentative and in a tiebreak, where risky tennis can win you matches you are not favored to win, Isner’s risky approach, much like his many approaches to the net, paid off.

Risky tennis deciding tight matches? That will not come as a surprise to many, and looking at Isner’s slow court game and attacking strategy, his upset over Federer should not come as too much of a surprise either.

Commentary by Christian Deverille

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Christian Deverille

Christian Deverille is a tennis writer with a diploma in Freelance Sports Writing from the London School of Journalism. He loves all things tennis, most of all the Federer and del Potro forehands.
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