John Isner, who has reached the semifinals in Rome, believes he can play on any surface. He will face a tough opponent, though, in Alexander Zverev, who he has practiced with and known for many years.
The No. 24-ranked Isner has yet to reach a final this season, but has played in three Masters 1000s finals in his career—at Indian Wells in 2012, in Cincinnati in 2013 and in Paris in 2016.
Isner has won 10 titles, but only one of those came on clay (Houston in 2013).
“I feel I can play well on all surfaces,” Isner said. “Nothing changes for me. Whether I'm playing on grass, hard or clay, it's the same recipe. I'm going to serve and hold my serve a lot. I can hold my serve in mud out there, really. So I like my serve no matter the surface.
"It just so happens to be that this week I'm sort of putting it together. Clay can be a great surface for me, but I also can play poorly on clay. I'm not gonna be at the back of the court winning, playing defensively, whether that's on [a] hard court, clay court or grass court. It's all the same.”
Isner has often practiced with his semifinal opponent, the 20-year-old Zverev, in Florida. Isner owns a house in Florida and both players train there.
“I was practicing with him when he was 14, 15,” the 32-year-old said of the German. “I'm like, 'God, this kid is good.' He's also making some tight calls in practice. Don't tell him I said that. No, I mean, I'm like, 'Goddang, this kid is going pro?' I would ask my coach. 'Yeah, he's going pro.'
"He's unbelievable and hits the ball so well. He emerged, really, two years ago, but last year he made a huge jump and now he's even jumped further. His future is very bright, that's for sure.”
On clay, the No. 17-ranked Zverev has been building momentum. In his first two events, he fell to Rafael Nadal in Monte Carlo and then went down against Nicolas Almagro in Barcelona. He then won Munich, and upset Marin Cilic and Tomas Berdych before losing in three tough sets against Pablo Cuevas in the quarters in Madrid.
Now he is in the semis in Rome, having beaten Milos Raonic in the quarterfinal. Isner and Zverev have played twice, with Zverev winning both meetings.
“It's an extremely tough match,” Isner said. “I would certainly love to get some revenge on him. But he's playing remarkably well, and it was only a matter of time, in my opinion, before he started having results like this. He's a confident kid. He carries himself … he has a lot of swagger. He's just got a lot of talent, unbelievable talent, but he also works extremely hard because I have seen it.”
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