LONDON (AP) — After taking a tiebreaker by the score of 19-17 on the way to reaching Wimbledon’s third round for the first time, John Isner put it quite succinctly: “I’m no stranger to matches like this.”
The man who is best known for winning the longest tennis match in history did what he does best, serve well, and beat 62nd-ranked Jarkko Nieminen of Finland 7-6 (17), 7-6 (3), 7-5 with the help of 32 aces Thursday.
“That tiebreaker was something else,” said the ninth-seeded Isner, the only American man remaining of the 10 who were in the field. “Fortunately, I won.”
Only one men’s singles tiebreaker at Wimbledon contained more points than the 36 played by Isner and Nieminen: Bjorn Borg won a tiebreaker 20-18 in 1973.
Isner fought off five set points for Nieminen in that tiebreaker. And Isner finally converted his eighth set point when Nieminen sent a forehand wide.
By winning a pair of tiebreakers Thursday, Isner improved to 24-12 in the set-deciding format this season.
“For whatever reason, when I’m that situation, I always have a lot of adrenaline, and I’m always serving my best,” said Isner, who beat Nicolas Mahut 70-68 in the fifth set of an 11-hour, 5-minute match spread over three days in Wimbledon’s opening round in 2010.
“The name of the game for me is just taking care of the two points on my serve. Put the pressure back on my opponent. That’s what I did.”
Pounding serves at up to 138 mph (223 kph), Isner never faced a break point against Nieminen and while he only was able to convert 1 of 7 chances of his own, that was enough. It came in the next to last game, making it 6-5 in the third set.
“I get in a lot of matches where it just becomes a ‘hold-fest,'” said the Florida-based Isner, “which is fine, but it’s not ideal.”
Last year at the All England Club, Isner needed to quit after only two games in the second round because of an injury to his left knee, which was covered by a thick bag of ice after Thursday’s match.
His departure in 2013 was part of a historically poor performance by U.S. men: They all were out of the draw before the third round, the first time that happened at Wimbledon since 1912, when none entered the tournament.
“At least,” he said, “there’s one guy past the second round.”
Just him, though. The three other American men in action Thursday lost. Sam Querrey was beaten 14-12 in the fifth set by No. 14 Jo-Wilfried Tsonga of France in a match that was halted because of fading light at 9-all Wednesday night. Jack Sock went out in straight sets against No. 8 Milos Raonic of Canada, and Denis Kudla did the same against No. 10 Kei Nishikori of Japan.
Led by five-time champion and top-seeded Serena Williams and her sister Venus, also a five-time titlist at Wimbledon, the U.S. women are faring better, with five already into the third round. Two won their second-round matches Thursday: Madison Keys, who lives in Florida, beat 31st-seeded Klara Koukalova of the Czech Republic 7-5, 6-7 (3), 6-2, and Alison Riske, who is based in Georgia, eliminated Camila Giorgi of Italy 7-5, 6-2.
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