They Said What? Living by the Sword
“Yeah, I mean, it's an honor. . . I'm the No. 1 American now, which isn't as cool as being the No. 1 American in the '90s or something, or the 2000s. It's pretty neat to say, but it's nothing I would brag about or anything like that.”—John Isner, after losing to Tomas Berdych, 6-4, 6-4, 6-4, in the fourth round at Roland Garros.
PARIS—John Isner’s bid to become the first American to reach the quarterfinals at Roland Garros since Andre Agassi in 2003 was crushed like a paper cup today in the hands Tomas Berdych. Isner was the last American standing, following third-round losses yesterday by Jack Sock and Donald Young.
You live by the sword, you die by the sword. Berdych, who stands 6'5" (still five inches shy of Isner’s 6'10"), beat a fellow advocate of the serve-based power game. The main difference, though, is that Berdych is a better mover than Isner, and he has a more versatile toolbox.
The match was first on Court Lenglen, before a sparse crowd and under threatening clouds. Isner was broken to start the match, and he had a look at a break point in the very next game. But he failed to convert it, and it was the last chance he had to break Berdych’s serve until the very last game of the match. It was a pretty comprehensive display of all-around superiority by Berdych, even though the 10th-seeded Isner was seeded just four notches below the No. 6 seed.
Stats tell part of the story: Berdych hit four more aces (11 to 7), committed 16 fewer unforced errors (Isner made 29 errors, Berdych just 13), and was much sharper at net, winning 82 percent of his trips to the front court, while Isner won just 53 percent of his approaches. The 2010 French Open semifinalist played with more energy.
“I just wasn't as lively,” Isner allowed. “It was a little colder than I expected actually out there. I was just slow from the start. But I thought the guy he played very well. He was a lot better than me today, and that's really all it was to that match out there. He was just the better player.”
Thus ended another frustrating year for American men at Roland Garros. All in all, the MVP of team USA probably was Donald Young, who played his heart out yesterday and came all the way back from a two-sets-to-love deficit before losing 6-4 in the fifth to Spain's Guillermo Garcia-Lopez, who took down Australian Open champion Stan Wawrinka in round one.
Isner is ranked No. 11; the next highest ranked player from the U.S. is No. 64 Steve Johnson. Five other Americans are ranked in the top 100.
“I think, yeah, a lot of the guys are a lot better than their ranking,” Isner said, defending his fellow countrymen. “I've said that before. We'll see some guys that are going to get into the Top 50, I think pretty soon. . . [And] you have a guy like Sam (Querrey). It’s only a matter of time before he starts to find his way a little bit. So we'll have some guys get up ranked higher pretty soon, I think.”
Isner, while having obvious limitations directly linked to his greatest asset (his height, which facilitates serving), has been surprisingly consistent and takes a measure of pride in being part of, or nibbling around the edges of, the Top 10.
“I think I've been pretty consistent, consistently good, which came as an actual surprise to me,” he said. “What I've done in the last four years I've been pretty happy about. Looks like I'm doing that again this year, but the really disappointing thing is that it's tough to get into that next level, that next level being guys like that dude over there in the press conference.”
As he spoke, Isner pointed beyond two windows to where Berdych sat in the main interview room, a Grand Slam quarterfinalist for the 10th time.