Giant John Isner who is still in the Race to London but needs the title in Paris to secure a spot amongst the final eight meets qualifier Filip Krajinovic. Krajinovic, who once beat his illustrious countryman Novak Djokovic has played just four other main draws at Masters 1000 level but has had a fine season in which he has climbed into the top 100 for the first time. Isner, meanwhile, is looking to make his fourth Masters 1000 final, which would be his second consecutively at the Paris Masters. But who will come out on top?
Somewhat unsurprisingly with the 25-year-old Krajinovic spending most of his career in the lower reaches of the game he and Isner have never met on Tour. But they did meet nine years ago in the second round of the now-defunct Challenger in Lubbock, Texas. Krajinovic was just 16 when the match was played and Isner comfortably defeated him 6-2 6-4. In terms of experience Isner has a massive advantage. The American has, as mentioned above, featured in three Masters finals previously and despite losing all three, has 12 career titles, including two this year. This is also his third Masters 1000 semifinal of the year. Krajinovic, in contrast, was just 1-1 for the year on the main Tour coming into this week and has won no titles so far in his career on Tour.
Path to the semifinals
Isner began his Paris campaign against Diego Schwartzman. He was made to battle hard throughout, taking the first set in a tiebreak only for the Argentinian to level the match in another tiebreak. But ultimately Isner’s booming serves told as he broke Schwartzman once in the decider and saw out a 7-6 6-7 6-3 victory. That set up another tough battle against sixth seed Grigor Dimitrov. Isner took a hard-fought first set 12 points to 10 in the tiebreak. But a break of serve at the death in the second set went the way of the Bulgarian and he levelled the match. Indeed, Dimitrov looked to be heading to victory when he broke Isner again midway through the deciding set. But the American broke back when Dimitrov served for it and in the ensuing tiebreak it was Isner who had the momentum. He capitalised to win 7-6 5-7 7-6.
Juan Martin del Potro, who was one match win away from the O2, awaited him in the quarterfinals. It was evenly matched early on but del Potro’s concentration failed him at the close of the opening set as he surrendered his serve to lose it. The Argentine kept himself alive in the second set, holding serve stubbornly and forcing a tiebreak. He came out on top in it as Isner double faulted down set point. But del Potro then dropped serve early in the third after an ace that del Potro thought had sealed the game was revealed to be out by hawkeye. Isner seized on del Potro’s slipped concentration and powered to the finish to complete a 6-4 6-7 6-4 victory.
Krajinovic defeated countryman Laslo Djere and Yuichi Sugita of Japan in the qualifiers to reach the main draw. He then knocked 10th seeded Sam Querrey out of London contention in a 6-4 6-4 upset win. He backed that win up with an impressive performance against the serve-and-volleying Frenchman Nicolas Mahut. Overcoming the raucous support of the crowd for their home favourite he triumphed in a strange encounter in which both men struggled to hold onto their momentum. Ultimately though, it was Krajinovic who prevailed 6-2 3-6 6-1. That should have set up a quarterfinal against world #1 Rafael Nadal, but the Spaniard withdrew with a knee injury to put Krajinovic into his first Masters semi.
How do they match up?
Isner’s game is dominated by his serve. That is unsurprising considering his 6’10” height. He is able to hit his serve with both angle and pace, and is one of the most difficult players on Tour to break. Krajinovic is not a bad server, although he has nothing like Isner’s power off the serve. His game is based on solid play from the back of the court, with both his backhand and forehand being reliable shots. What he lacks against the very best is a true weapon. One key for Krajinovic could be to take after fellow Serbian and take his backhand down the line as often as possible. That could expose Isner’s fairly lumbering movement to his advantage. He will also realistically need to have the best returning day of his life to get past Isner’s power.
It is hard to look past Isner for the win here. Krajinovic has done superbly well to make it to the last four, but Isner looks battle hardened and should have too much power for the Serbian. The American’s body has looked a little frail and may be hurting after three tough three-setters, but he should have an easier match against Krajinovic. Expect Isner to reach the final in straight sets.
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