The Miami Open happens to be one of the few playgrounds where Isner feels he can hang with the 20-year-old, and for the second time in three years at the tournament, edged the No. 11 seed in a pair of tie-breakers.
“Out here in Miami, where I have incredible memories, I’m always going to have a lot of confidence. I think that was very important in carrying me through to the victory today,” Isner told Tennis Channel’s Prakash Amritraj following his 7-6 (5), 7-6 (5) win in the third round.
“I served extremely well. It’s the same score. A couple years ago, I think he served for both sets in the semifinals. Today was much different, there wasn’t much headway made on return by both of us.”
In 2019, Isner overcame Auger-Aliassime, 7-6 (3), 7-6 (4) as the defending champion to return to the Masters 1000 final in its first year at Hard Rock Stadium. With little to separate the two competitors once again, Sunday's tight contest came down to who could step up under pressure. At 4-5 in the second set tie-break, the 18th-seeded Isner delivered a terrific serve-and-volley combo that provided one last boost.
“A lot of times when my opponents go way deep on second serve, I’m gonna serve and volley. There’s a good chance they’re going to make that return back and I don’t want to play a baseline point,” Isner said.
“That’s exactly what happened on that 4-5 point. I was fortunate he kind of hit it in the middle of the court and I just carved a backhand volley for a drop shot winner, which is a pretty good shot considering how fast he is. Then another ace at 5-5 and that set me up to win the match. I’m confident in that situation.”
The 35-year-old now meets No. 7 seed Roberto Bautista Agut, who he also topped in two tie-breaks in his 2019 showing, for a place in the quarterfinals. The Spaniard rallied past No. 31 seed Jan-Lennard Struff, 4-6, 6-3, 6-2. Looking to stay sharp, Isner is hoping time on the doubles court with Taylor Fritz will allow him to refine parts of his game.
“There’s some things technically that I need to work on here. Playing out at 11, 12 o’clock, the ball’s bouncing really high. It’s much different than the conditions in my first match when I played at 9 p.m,” Isner assessed. “I think I have a day off tomorrow, maybe play a little doubles and work on a few things on the return side, see if I can improve in my next match.”
Isner and Fritz are slated to take on No. 2 seeds Nikola Mektic and Mate Pavic.