Two of the biggest serves in the game will collide on Sunday when 11th seed and American #1 John Isner faces off against 25th seed Milos Raonic, the top-ranked Canadian man. This match will be punctuated by plenty of aces and breaks of serve will likely be few and far between, with the 6’10” Isner and the 6’5” Raonic regularly sending down thunderbolts in excess of 140 mph. But will it be the Stars and Stripes or the Maple Leaf that reigns triumphant?
These two have met five times in their career, and somewhat surprisingly it has been Isner who has generally had the better of it, winning four times. The first four matches were played on hard courts and Isner won three of them. The most recent was a four set quarterfinal Isner win at Wimbledon. Unsurprisingly, these matches have been riddled with tiebreaks; nine of the 13 sets they have played have gone to a 13th game, and two matches have been decided exclusively by tiebreaks.
Path to the fourth round
Isner has not had an easy run so far, being forced - as is often the case for the big man - into a lot of long sets, as well as long matches. He opened with a 7-6 6-3 6-4 win over compatriot Bradley Klahn, before being taken the distance by the in-form world #42 Nicolas Jarry. But he managed to sneak over the line a 6-7 6-4 3-6 7-6 6-4 winner. He reached the round of 16 courtesy of a tight four set win over Serbia's Dusan Lajovic, 7-6 6-7 6-3 7-5.
Raonic has had things a little easier, despite finding himself in one of the more stacked sections of the draw at the beginning of the tournament. He began with a 7-6 6-4 1-6 6-3 win over Argentinian Carlos Berlocq, before beating former world #6 Gilles Simon in straight sets. He then faced former world #3 and three-time Grand Slam winner Stan Wawrinka but was again relatively untroubled, winning 7-6 6-4 6-3, snapping the Swiss' nine match winning streak in New York.
How do they match up?
As alluded to above, Isner and Raonic have a similar approach to the sport. Both rely heavily on their serves, which are two of the best in the world. Raonic has already landed 57 aces this week, whilst Isner has thundered down 92. And with neither noted for their returning ability, do not be surprised to see them add to their tallies. In their Wimbledon clash they hit 56 between them. But they are not without power off the ground.
Both Isner and Raonic are reasonably solid baseliners, but both very much favour their forehand sides. They will likely look to run around their backhands as much as they can to hit inside-out forehands. That could leave them vulnerable to linear backhands and inside-in forehands, particularly because neither are amongst the most mobile of players. But, it is still hard to look past the serve as the determining factor in this clash.
This match seems destined to be a long one. Tiebreaks will almost certainly be the order of the day and breaks will be rarer than gold dust. But as difficult as it is to separate them, it is Raonic who heads into the match in better form. He has spent less time on court and played the better tennis, despite having the tougher draw by some margin. He may not roll Isner over, but expect the Canadian to beat him in five.