An all American quarter-final at a Masters event is not the most common occurrence. But John Isner, the USA’s number one, and Jared Donaldson, one of America’s great hopes for the future, have been playing well all week and richly deserve their places. Both also look comfortable on the hard courts in Cincinnati and have enjoyed the support of the American crowds. But who will get the support of the Ohioans in the fourth match on Centre Court?
Donaldson and Isner have met once before. That match came at Queen’s in 2015, where Isner beat Donaldson in straight sets. But don’t let that fool you, as the first set went to a tiebreaker, which Isner won 13-11. Donaldson lost focus somewhat in the next set to lose it 6-4, a valiant fight none the less for a 19-year-old. One area where Isner has a clear advantage is in experience at this level. Donaldson is competing in his first Masters 1000 quarter-final, whilst Isner has made three finals at this level. Indeed, that includes in Cincinnati, where he lost a tight match to Nadal in 2013.
Path to the quarter-final
Isner faced Serbian Victor Troicki in the first round. Troicki played solidly in the first set, with great groundstrokes and excellent serves, which let him stretch the set to a tie break. However, his serve fell apart, and too many errors allowed Isner to clinch the set. The next set was similar to the tie break; unforced errors and lack of focus. Troicki eventually lost the set 4-6. Isner next faced wildcard, Tommy Paul. Paul, a 20-year-old newcomer, had played just 14 tour level matches previously. That showed as Isner won 6-3 6-3. Paul has a booming serve and forehand like most Americans, and is a great returner, but couldn’t hold his own. Neither could Frances Tiafoe. The 19-year-old lacked the focus he displayed in his previous match against Alexander Zverev and made too many unforced errors. His forehand seemed hit-and-miss as he lost 6-7 5-7.
Donaldson faced 12th seed Roberto Bautista Agut in the first round. The Spaniard has been in great form this year, especially since the grass court swing. He recently reached the quarters at the Canadian Masters before losing to Roger Federer. Many expected him to win comfortably however Donaldson played a superb match, coming out with a straight sets victory. His next opponent was lucky loser Ramkumar Ramanathan, who replaced Gael Monfils. Ramanathan recently scored a win over Dominic Thiem in Antalya, and the Indian player has been in good form.
After dropping serve in the last game first set to lose it, Ramanathan bounced back to clinch the second. But in the third, Donaldson drew on the crowd and won it 6-4. Nikoloz Basilashvili awaited in the third round. The Georgian player seemed unfocused in the first set but found his footing in the second to stretch it to a tie break. However, some thundering serves and forehands from Donaldson sealed the match in two.
How do they match up?
Isner’s game relies heavily on his serve, something which is yet to be broken in Cincinnati. However, his return of serve is a weakness, and although his net game is improved, it is another area where he could improve. All of this favours Donaldson. He has a solid baseline game and his serve is excellent too. But, when Donaldson approaches the net, at times, he hits the driving volley which is often far less effective and more error-prone than a classical volley. His forehand also has a lot of topspin, which Isner is great at neutralising. This suggests a tight match up.
Donaldson in three. He has been playing well for a while now, and Isner’s game is too shaky and too dependent on his serve. Donaldson is a great returner too, and everything considered, it seems like we might have another Next Gen talent rising to the occasion.
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