In many ways, Andy Murray is a nightmare opponent for John Isner. Murray counters Isner’s best shot, his serve, with his own best shot, his return. He’s steady and conservative from the baseline, which is how you need to be against Isner. He’s quick enough to make the big American hit one more shot in a rally, and accurate enough to force him to move to his right, something Isner has trouble doing. The proof is in the results. Today Murray improved his record to 3-0 against Isner with a quarterfinal win in Cincinnati, 6-7 (3), 6-4, 7-6 (2).
As you can see from those scores, though, this one almost went the other way. In fact, Isner twice reached match point on Murray’s serve at 5-6 in the third set. On the first, he moved forward after a good, deep forehand approach, only to net a low backhand volley. On the second, Isner shanked a backhand wide from the back of the court. Both times, Murray held his ground and came up with the right mix of aggression and safety.
That’s how this match went in general: Isner attacked and littered up the stat sheet—46 winners, 46 errors, 21 aces, 17/23 at the net—while Murray kept it tight and tidy. He made just 21 errors, hit 14 aces of his own, and was never broken. While the most important shot of the day was obviously Isner’s serve, his forehand was what determined the outcome. In the first-set tiebreaker, Isner came up with two big forehand returns for mini-breaks; but in the third-set breaker, he sent the easiest of forehand putaways long to go down 4-2. Slunp-shouldered, he barely hit another ball over the net.
From a playing perspective, the match was a positive step for Murray and Isner, each of whom had been struggling, and who had been in need of a quality win. Despite losing the first set, and nearly double-faulting his way out the match at 5-6 in the third, Murray was on his game. He took care of his serve, he did his best to make Isner move to his forehand side, and he stayed patient, something that is never easy against the American ace machine.
Murray was even patient with the pro-U.S. noise that swirled around the court and across the grounds in Cincy. At one point, Serena Williams could be heard on the loudspeakers telling ESPN that Murray was her favorite player to watch. It was enough to to bring a rare smile to Muzz’s lips. That may have been because he didn’t hear why Serena likes to watch him: Because, she said, he acts like her, “like a baby sometimes.”
Isner moves on to Winston-Salem next week. Murray moves on to play either Roger Federer or Gael Monfils.