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Is Isner America's answer?

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Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - "Big" John Isner has played in only two ATP events in the infantile stage of his pro career, but he's already appeared in one final by virtue of his very surprising showing in the nation's capital last week.

Unfortunately for the towering American, he was unable to defeat top-seeded Andy Roddick in Sunday's finale at the Legg Mason Tennis Classic, in a bout that marked the ATP's first all-American championship match in over a year.

By the way, Roddick's victory marked his third championship at the quality DC event.

Isner headed to Washington ranked 416th in the world, and exited the tournament at No. 193. He was ranked down in the 800s as recently as six weeks ago.

"This was an amazing week," Isner said after succumbing to Roddick. "I couldn't ask for a better week. I got to play against Andy Roddick in an ATP final, it doesn't get much better than that."

The week before DC, the skyscraping American captured a Challenger event in Lexington. The Challenger circuit is basically the minor leagues of tennis.

Even at a beanstalkish 6-foot-9, Isner is only the second-tallest player on the tour, eclipsed only by 6-foot-10 Croatian slugger Ivo Karlovic.

Fortunately for the Greensboro, North Carolina native Isner, his game is almost as big as he is. As you would imagine, a tennis player approaching the seven-foot mark typically has a monster service game, and the 22-year-old "Is" is no exception.

John Isner
The 6-foot-9 Isner reached his first final in only his second ATP-level event last week.
He starred collegiately at the University of Georgia, which, led by its top star Isner, captured the men's NCAA tennis title this past season. And his beloved Bulldogs were the national team runner-up in 2006. As a matter of fact, mighty Georgia lost only one match in Isner's final two years in Athens.

In Washington, the lanky American beat the likes of once-solid Brit Tim Henman, German star Tommy Haas and still-promising Frenchman Gael Monfils en route to the final. The most eye-catching win of all came against Haas, who's been one of the top players on the circuit over the past several months. The large American used 30 aces to help himself stun the talented German in three tough sets.

Isner came from a set down before dismissing Henman in the opening round; he also came from a set down in order to defeat another German, Benjamin Becker, in the second round; and also dropped the first set against his countryman Wayne Odesnik in the third round before rebounding for yet another comeback victory. And in keeping with his dramatic come-from-behind theme, Isner, once again, came from behind in order to best the capable Monfils in the semis.

The altitudinous Isner wound up playing 17 sets in his six matches at the Legg Mason, and 11 of them went to tiebreaks (7-4). Why so many tiebreaks, you say? Well, that's because Isner is very difficult to break, and he has difficulty breaking his opponent, which of course could have something to do with him being a one-trick (massive serve) pony.

FYI, Isner received a wild card entry into the DC draw only after Chilean Aussie Open runner-up Fernando Gonzalez withdrew from the hardcourt tourney. The American promptly went on to record his first-ever wins against Top-100 players -- no less than four of 'em to be exact -- as Henman, Becker, Haas and Monfils all reside in that Top-Hundy neck of the woods.

Tall Tale: The Redwood-like Isner's first-ever ATP match resulted in a loss against 6-foot-8 Belgian Dick Norman on the grass courts in Newport last month. Can you say men in trees? Or is it men like trees?

And the 6-9 Isner came really close to facing the even-taller 6-10 Karlovic last week, but "Dr. Ivo" came up short (get it?) in his semifinal against Roddick.

As far as I know, that Isner-Norman clash in Newport is the record for the all-time tallest matchup on tour. You can probably look it up, but why would you?

Okay, I'm not gonna sit here and say that Isner is the second coming of Pete Sampras, far from it, but it's certainly nice to see a young American doing well somewhere on the ultra-competitive ATP.

Isner's next ATP outing will come at next week's Masters/US Open Series event in Cincinnati.

How high will he soar?

Stay tuned.

Ace or double fault? Send your comments to Scott Riley at sriley@sportsnetwork.com.
Scott Riley


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