A methodical manner earned John Isner the nickname "Grandpa" during his days at the University of Georgia. Playing with urgency, Isner delivered an imposing senior moment in Atlanta today.
The top seed stung 15 aces and scalded some timely forehand returns overwhelming Dudi Sela, 6-3, 6-4, to successfully defend his Atlanta title.
Sela showed his sense of humor — and illustrated the absurdly disproportionate demands of this Dudi vs. Goliath duel — before the pair even took the court. The 5-foot-9 Israeli conducted the pre-match interview standing on a box to shorten a substantial size gap. That was about the only time all day Sela stood on even terms with the 6'10 Isner.
Empowered by a seven-match Atlanta winning streak, Isner opened with a three ace game. Edgy in his first ATP final in nearly six years, Sela double faulted into the tape to drop his opening service game. Playing catch-up against a big server on a hard court can be daunting. Playing from a break down against Isner can feel downright futile.
The world No. 12 leads the ATP in service games won (93 percent), but trails the Top 50 in return games won (9 percent). That early break enabled Isner to amp up his aggression on return, swing more freely and shrink Sela's margin for error on his own serve.
Sela broke Isner three times in a 3-6, 6-1, 7-6 (5) loss in Delray Beach last February and knows how fleeting chances can be facing a serve that's basically a sound and a blur. A backhand pass down the line followed by a double fault gave Sela his only break point of the day at 30-40 in the fifth game. Isner buzzed successive aces to erase the threat. He won 14 of 15 points played on his first serve in cruising through the first set.
Pouncing on a soft 79 M.P.H second serve, Isner plastered an inside-out forehand return winner to break for a 2-1 second set lead. He quickly consolidated with an ace down the middle for 3-1. Sela owns a slick one-handed backhand he can flatten down the line or angle sharply with spin, but Isner denied the world No. 94 entry into rallies.
The combination of searing heat and a sometime whipping wind made Isner's high-bounding kick serve even more unruly. Sela chose to camp out near the baseline to try to take returns on the rise, but often couldn't defend the wide serve as a result. Serving for the title, Isner fell into a 0-30 hole. He accelerated through the finish line thumping a 137 M.P.H ace for match point and closing with a blast down the T.
"I felt great as soon as I stepped on court; getting that early lead helped me out a lot," Isner told ESPN2's Patrick McEnroe afterward. "These conditions favor me quite a bit. It's really hot and real lively. I couldn't ask for better conditions."
The U.S. Open Series has been largely successful trip for Isner, who has captured seven of his nine titles on American soil. Isner has come up big in 250-level events, the challenge he faces is elevating his game in the Masters and majors. He fell to Juan Martin del Potro in the Washington, DC final last year and was runner-up to Rafael Nadal in the 2013 Cincinnati final and aims to back up those results in the coming weeks with the U.S. Open looming next month.