Big-serving Americans Jack Sock and John Isner clash for a place in the BNP Paribas Masters semifinals with both men looking for their first Masters 1000 semifinal of the season in Paris.
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An American in Paris – or how about two of them? Compatriots Jack Sock and John Isner will face off for a place in the semifinals of the BNP Paribas Masters on Friday.
Twice a runner-up at Masters 1000 Series level at the Indian Wells Masters in 2012 and the Cincinnati Masters in 2013, John Isner will be looking to make his first Masters 1000 Series semifinal off American soil since he made the final four at the BNP Paribas Masters in 2011, losing to David Ferrer. Isner avenged that defeat in the second round when he backed up his victory over the in-form Basel semifinalist Mischa Zverev with a straight-sets win over 15th-seeded Ferrer before defeating Jan-Lennard Struff, the qualifier who had defeated third seed Stan Wawrinka in the early hours of Thursday morning, 6-4, 6-7(4), 6-3.
A potential Masters semifinal in Paris would be a welcome boost to Isner’s season – albeit right at the end in his last event of the year – which hasn’t been entirely successful. Ranked world no. 11 at the start of the season after a 2015 which included a title in Atlanta, runner-up finish in Washington, D.C. and semifinal appearance at the Miami Masters, Isner has slid all the way down to world no. 27, his current ranking, over the past 11 months. The big-serving American made the fourth rounds of the Australian Open and Roland Garros and the third rounds of Wimbledon and the US Open, so it’s been a respectable if unspectacular year at the Grand Slams, but he has only won back-to-back matches at one Masters 1000 Series event in 2016 (Indian Wells, where he lost to Kei Nishikori in the round of 16). Pulling out of the Olympics to focus on the American hard-court summer backfired as Isner was unable to defend his Atlanta title (finishing runner-up to Nick Kyrgios) and made no impression in Washington, D.C., Toronto, Cincinnati and New York where he lost to the unseeded Kyle Edmund in the third round. Isner went 0-2 in Stockholm and Shanghai and fell in the Vienna quarterfinals, so Paris is absolutely his last chance to end 2016 on a positive note.
Seen in that light, it’s even crueler that it could be Jack Sock who ends a season which has seen him usurp Isner’s position as the American no. 1, both in the rankings and in general perception.
John Isner (Dan Mullan/Getty Images)
While male American tennis is still searching for a successor to Andy Roddick, Sock – with his game built around a big serve and a big forehand - is the closest thing they have right now. The Nebraskan man hit a career-high ranking of world no. 22 back in January when he made the Auckland final – he retired against Roberto Bautista Agut in the title match – and went on to finish runner-up at the 250 events in Houston (to Juan Monaco) and Juan Martin del Potro (in Stockholm).
In contrast to Isner, Sock did prioritize the Rio Olympics, competing despite a case of walking pneumonia. While he was knocked out of the singles in the first round by Japan’s Taro Daniel, he went on to win a bronze in the men’s doubles with Steve Johnson and a gold in the mixed doubles with Bethanie Mattek-Sands. Sock went on to make the fourth round of the US Open with a defeat of Marin Cilic, losing to Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, and made the quarterfinals of the Shanghai Masters before the aforementioned Stockholm final.
So far in Paris, Sock has beaten Philipp Kohlschreiber, sixth seed Dominic Thiem and finally Richard Gasquet in an entertaining contest on Thursday which saw him come back from a break down in the third set to batter the French player into submission with heavy topspin forehands targeting Gasquet’s single-handed backhand, earning him a 6-2, 3-6, 7-5 victory.
Fatigue is a potential issue for Sock – he has played 31 matches over the past 32 days according to the ATP (including doubles) with only six days off – and he trails Isner 3-4 in the head-to-head, although he has won three of the last four including their only indoor hard-court meeting in Basel last year and their only 2016 encounter which came in Houston. Sock has been playing much better tennis of late than Isner, and will be much more confident, but he will also be much more tired – and Isner has yet to drop serve in Paris. There’s guaranteed to be an American in the semifinals of the BNP Paribas Masters on Saturday – but Sock will have to work extremely hard to ensure that it’s him.
Sock vs Isner is scheduled on Court Central in Paris on Friday at 2pm local/1pm GMT