Miami Open champion John Isner earned lasting fame from his 6-4 3-6 6-7 7-6 70-68 victory over Nicolas Mahut in the first round at Wimbledon eight years ago. But he is still yet to reach the second week at Wimbledon, a feat he has achieved at the other three Slams at least twice. He will hope to change that against Radu Albot of Moldova, who has already matched his best ever Major performance by reaching the third round. But who will come out on top?
Isner and Albot have met three times so far in their careers, with all three matches coming earlier this season. It was Albot who won the first, upsetting Isner at the inaugural New York Open in three sets, 7-6 3-6 7-6. Isner got his revenge a week later in Delray Beach in the first round, downing Albot 5-7 6-3 6-4. In their most recent clash, it was again Isner who came away with the victory, beating Albot in straight sets in the second round of the Lyon Open on clay 7-6 6-3.
Path to the third round
Isner, who battled through to the fourth round of the French Open, elected not to play a grass court warm up event. That saw him begin his grass court campaign against German qualifier Yannick Maden in the first round at the Championships. Isner was largely untroubled in that match, winning through 6-2 7-6 7-5. However, despite a strong start in the second round against Ruben Bemelmans, he ultimately found himself in a dogfight, but scraped past the Belgian 6-1 6-4 6-7 6-7 7-5.
Albot’s grass court season prior to the Championships consisted of a loss in the Antalya qualifying to Turkish world #881 Ergi Kirkin. That did not perhaps augur well for his Wimbledon chances, but the Moldovan delivered an excellent performance to oust the Spanish 20th seed Pablo Carreno Busta 3-6 6-0 6-7 6-1 6-2. He backed that up with another five-set victory, withstanding 25 aces from the racquet of Aljaz Bedene to win 6-2 4-6 7-6 5-7 6-3.
How do they match up?
Whilst John Isner may not be particularly mobile nor comfortable on his backhand side, he does do one thing better than almost anyone on Tour. And that is rain down aces. He hit 25 in defeating Maden and then a fairly astonishing 64 against Bemelmans, which was 58 more than his opponent mustered. His forehand is also usually a strength, but one that is negated by grass courts due to the low bounces, which for the 6’10” North Carolinian are more of a problem than for most.
Albot, who a foot and one inch shorter than his opponent, doesn’t have Isner’s easy power. But he is far better than the American defensively, and his game lacks the glaring weakness of Isner’s backhand. Where Albot was able to have success against Isner in New York, and to a lesser extent Delray Beach, was by returning from close to the baseline and trying to pick the American’s serve. It was a smart move, as whilst he was aced often, he guessed enough right to get the win in New York.
Isner has had success in his career in Newport at the only grass court tournament to follow Wimbledon, but elsewhere it has never really suited him as a surface. Though it may seem counter-intuitive, he benefits from the extra-time and higher bounces afforded by slower surfaces. On grass, his lack of mobility has been exploited more than once by opponents and Albot has shown he can do just that against the big man. It won’t be easy, but the Moldovan will get the upset in five.