MADRID, Spain – Every week is a new story on the tennis tour. On Sunday in Belgrade, John Isner had match point against his travelling companion Sam Querrey and lost. Today the two young Americans followed each other onto Court Four here at the Caja Majica and found the tables turned.
Querrey had match point against Daniel Munoz-de la Nava and lost, while Isner fought back from a set down to beat the little Belgian Christophe Rochus to win 5-7, 6-2, 6-2.
"My serve helped me out today," said Isner who, at 6-foot 9, is the second tallest man on the tour while Rochus is the second shortest at 5-foot 7. "It was tough getting here through all the volcanic disruption but that's what you go through playing at the highest level and I didn't want to bow out early here. It's a Masters 1000 tournament. I wasn't going to go quietly."
Nor did he. Rochus, who is in his 11th year on the circuit, has dealt with most things in his time, but a serve coming down from Isner's height is tough to handle over the long haul and the last two sets were not really a contest.
Isner admitted to being very disappointed at having lost the final in Belgrade. "I had that match point on my serve," he said. "But afterwards, I had two choices. Let it linger or hit the delete button. And winning like I did today cures everything."
Querrey was enduring completely opposite emotions. Playing in the shadow of the huge, square, steel "Magic Box" which houses three courts with sliding roofs, the American did a good job subduing the enthusiasm of the small crowd that had gathered to support Munoz-de la Nava, a 28-year-old journeyman from Madrid.
The Spaniard is ranked No. 315 in the world but you would never have known it from the way he unleashed his flowing left-handed forehand from all areas of the court. He lost the first set on the breaker (7-3), but then started to make inroads into Querrey's defenses and it was not until he got a break in the third that Sam looked capable of regaining the initiative after losing the second set, 6-3.
Serving for the match at 5-4, Querrey needed the help of umpire Muhamed Lahyani to get him to match point. A big serve was called out, but Lahyani descended from his chair, checked the ball mark, then indicated that it had smeared the line and awarded Querrey an ace.
A forehand error then cost Querrey dearly and Munoz-de la Nava capitalized with some more raking drives that forced further errors from the American. Obviously tired and fretting over the squandered chance, Querrey repeated all the mistakes Americans have made over the years when faced with one of those pesky little clay court experts in Europe and went down 6-7 (3-7), 6-3, 7-5.
Roger Federer came through 6-2, 7-6 against Germany's Benjamin Becker. It was a good enough victory for a man who needs some matches under his belt before heading off to Paris to defend his French Open title but there were signs of nerves at the end when Federer missed three match points before closing it out.
Albert Montanes, the Spaniard who beat Federer in Estoril last week, found Ernests Gulbis altogether too much for him and succumbed to the hugely talented Latvian, 7-5, 6-1. It was Gulbis who beat Federer in Rome so today's results offers a fair reflection of Gulbis' growing authority.
In women's play, seeds fell like blossoms on a windy spring day. World No. 2 Caroline Wozniacki, still not fully fit after injury, lost to Alona Bondarenko of the Ukraine 6-2, 6-3; No. 9 seed Agnieszka Radwanska of Poland went down to the experienced Swiss Patty Schnyder, and No. 6 seed Elena Dementieva managed to squander a third set break and lost to the unknown Romanian Alexandra Dulgheru.
But nothing seems to be fazing Samantha Stosur these days. Ever since the Australian reached the semifinal of the French Open last year, she has been on an rapid upward swing and today the world No. 8 took care of the surprise winner in Rome, Maria Jose Martinez Sanchez 7-6 (7-2), 6-4.
A possible meeting with Venus Williams in the fourth round should prove interesting.