WASHINGTON – Psssst. Here's a little advice for any tennis player who finds himself facing 6-foot-9 John Isner at the Legg Mason Tennis Classic: Don't let the match get to a third-set tiebreaker.
The 11th-seeded Isner edged neighbor, pal and doubles partner James Blake 7-6 (0), 1-6, 7-6 (4) Thursday in a match delayed a day by rain to reach the quarterfinals in Washington. Half of Isner's 18 career matches at the hard-court tuneup for the U.S. Open have been decided by a tiebreaker in the third set, and he's 8-1.
"It's bizarre. It's hard to explain," said Isner, the Legg Mason runner-up in 2007. "I find myself in that situation, really, more times than not, especially on that center court. So it's definitely something that I'm accustomed to."
Actually, John, it's rather easy to figure out why you have success in that situation: You hit big serves, and those really help in tiebreakers. On Thursday, Isner hit 13 aces and overcame 46 unforced errors, including seven double-faults, to beat Blake for the second time in a span of two weeks.
Isner also needed three sets to top Blake at Atlanta on July 21, the first time they faced each other as pros. They live near each other in Tampa, Fla., practice together frequently and had teamed up at Legg Mason but pulled out of the doubles event after Thursday's singles match so Isner could conserve energy.
Blake actually won more points Thursday, 112-103, but Isner was better in both tiebreakers.
Facing someone as tall and powerful as Isner is "a whole different brand of tennis," Blake said.
"At some points, it's out of your control. Sometimes they take the racket out of your hands," added Blake, who won the 2002 title at Washington. "It swings on one or two points, but there's so little that you can do about it."
The next man who will try to deal with Isner is No. 3-seeded Viktor Troicki, who beat Kevin Anderson 6-3, 6-3.
Also reaching Friday's quarterfinals was unseeded Donald Young, who beat Michael Russell 6-3, 6-3 in an all-American matchup. Young now meets No. 7-seeded Marcos Baghdatis, the 2010 runner-up, who won two three-set matches Thursday.
Baghdatis first defeated Somdev Devvarman 6-2, 0-6, 7-5, then eliminated No. 12 Thomaz Bellucci 3-6, 6-3, 6-2.
Because rain wiped out half of Wednesday's schedule, the tournament began Thursday action at noon, four hours earlier than originally scheduled, and some players were forced to play twice in one day.
Top-seeded Gael Monfils, for example, beat 15th-seeded Dmitry Tursunov of Russia 6-2, 7-6 (9) in the third round at night, after having defeated 66th-ranked Ryan Sweeting of the United States 6-3, 7-6 (3). Monfils' quarterfinal opponent is No. 6-seeded Janko Tipsarevic, who got past Michael Berrer 6-3, 6-4, then Grigor Dimitrov 6-4, 6-2.
No. 5-seeded Fernando Verdasco — one of the lucky ones who didn't need to play twice — got to the quarterfinals with a 6-4, 7-5 victory over No. 9 Nikolay Davydenko. Verdasco will face Radek Stepanek, who eliminated No. 16-seeded Jarkko Nieminen 6-4, 3-6, 6-2.
In Thursday night's final match, the top-seeded doubles pairing of American twins Bob and Mike Bryan was upset 7-6 (1), 6-3 in the first round by Marcelo Melo and Bruno Soares of Brazil. The Bryans, who won Wimbledon last month for their 11th Grand Slam title, remained one match win shy of 700 together.
Nearly 12 hours earlier, in the day's first match, a traditional backhand probably would have sufficed for Monfils in the second set against Sweeting.
Instead, Monfils opted for something worthy of a highlight reel, spinning and wrapping his racket around his body for a behind-the-back shot that somehow cleared the net.
Alas, Monfils lost the point seconds later by missing a regular old forehand. Still, that was only a minor blip in a dominant performance that included 17 aces.
"I'm a bit lucky," Monfils said when asked about his trick shot, one of many he said he works on when goofing around on court with friends. "I think I can do crazy stuff."
Monfils' usual entertaining brand of tennis drew kudos from Sweeting.
"I laughed a little bit today. He hit some great shots," Sweeting said, then clarified that his chuckles came "out of respect."
"He hit a shot behind his back. He jumped 10 feet in the air," Sweeting said. "He's just so athletic. I was laughing because it's just amazing."
Monfils was broken only once and won 39 of 47 points on his first serve. He helped himself by delivering at least one ace in 10 of his 11 service games.
And he didn't do it with overpowering speed, staying generally around 120 mph.
"He took away one of my greatest weapons, which is my return," Sweeting said. "He was hitting his spots well. ... He was placing it really well, and he was tossing the ball in the same place, and it was pretty tough to read."
It was the Frenchman's first match at Washington's hard-court U.S. Open tuneup since 2007, when he reached the semifinals.
In another early match, 10th-seeded Michael Llodra of France quit because of sore ribs while trailing Dimitrov in the first set. Llodra joined a growing list of seeded players who either stopped playing — No. 4 Jurgen Melzer and No. 14 Xavier Malisse — or never played a point — Andy Roddick, Mardy Fish, Fernando Gonzalez — at the tournament, citing injuries.
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