NEWPORT, RI—Late in the first set of Sunday’s Hall of Fame Open final, it looked like John Isner would need to hit the reset button after going down a break to first-time ATP finalist Alexander Bublik. With the No. 7-seeded Bublik serving up 6-5, 15-15, Isner instead won eight consecutive points to grab hold of the momentum and clinch a fourth Newport crown, 7-6 (2), 6-3.
"It’s crazy," Isner said. "I remember when I first played here in 2007, my very first ATP tournament, I didn’t enjoy the courts that much. Because I didn’t know how to play on these courts. I wasn’t doing the right stuff, in my opinion. To sit here now and be able to say I won this tournament four times is something I never thought would be possible."
Facing match point, Bublik opted to play an underarm serve, a tactic he displayed frequently all tournament long. It didn’t catch Isner off guard, who despite slipping on his forehand follow through, won the point to seal his first title of the year and 15th overall.
“That final point, I had a feeling he was going to go to the underarm serve. I was ready for it,” the No. 1 seed said. “I actually didn’t see the ball land in because my face was on the ground. I had a feeling I hit it pretty well and then I heard the crowd started cheering. I’m very happy to win that 6-3 and not have to serve that out at 5-4.”
Photo by Kate Whitney Lucey
The win capped off a critical week for Isner. The 34-year-old was playing just his second event since sustaining a stress fracture in his left foot in the Miami Open final. After losing in the second round of Wimbledon to Mikhail Kukushkin, Isner accepted a wild card into Newport after deciding match play was the best recipe for gaining confidence for the US Open Series.
“I’ve definitely lacked court time over the last three-and-a-half months or so. The best way to get back into shape is spending time on the court and playing matches, which is the most important thing you can do,” Isner said. “I haven’t played many tournaments this year because I missed a good chunk but even with that being the case, I feel like I’m having a good year.”
The 22-year-old Bublik was aiming to become the third ATP player to win his first trophy this week after Nicolas Jarry triumphed in Bastad and Dusan Lajovic captured the Umag title. The world No. 83 is projected to rise to a career-high ranking around No. 71 as a result of his strong week.
“It’s my first final. Of course, I’m going to remember this day forever,” Bublik said. “Playing John, he’s a great player. He taught me a bit how to play in the important moments.”
Bublik could get a quick shot at redemption in Atlanta next week, as a win over Reilly Opelka would set up a second-round meeting with Isner.