MADRID – Rafael Nadal was too good for John Isner on clay. No surprise there. But the big American was not disgraced as he faced the King of Clay under the roof of the Manolo Santana Stadium Court on a cold and rainy day in Madrid.
Nadal playing on a court named after Santana. It doesn't get much more intimidating than that when you add a large vociferous crowd, complimented by soccer stars such as Raul and Cristiano Ronaldo from the Real Madrid team, but Isner is much too cool a character to let that bother him.
What he did find too much to handle, as he went down 7-5, 6-4 in the third round of the Madrid Masters, was Nadal's relentless ability to chase down every ball and return it with interest.
"It was pretty much what I expected," said Isner before he went off to have a plate of pasta with doubles partner Sam Querrey in the players restaurant here at the Caja Majica. "He's so good on this surface -- probably the best of all time. He just takes control and it's tough to get it back."
Isner admitted that he felt the need to press and therefore lost control of his forehand, which was the source of many of his 28 errors in the match. But there were moments when he gave Nadal pause and it was interesting to see how excited the Spaniard was to finally break the massive Isner serve and grab the first set. He knew this man was dangerous if you gave him a foothold.
But, of course, Nadal rarely does that and, as he searches for a title that he failed to win here last year -- losing to Roger Federer in the final -- he will face another good test in the quarters when he comes up against Frenchman Gael Monfils who came through against Guillermo Garcia-Lopez 7-6, 6-4.
On the other side of the draw, Andy Murray, who won this title in 2008 when it was played indoor on hardcourts and reached the quarterfinal here on clay 12 months ago, dismantled the big serve of Victor Hanescu and beat the big Romanian 6-2, 6-1. Murray, racing all over the court to reach Hanescu drop shots, hit 16 winners and allowed himself just eight unforced errors -- a winning ration if ever there was one.
Fernando Verdasco was bitterly disappointed at losing 7-5, 6-3 to that relentlessly efficient Austrian Jurgen Melzer, but there was no doubt an ankle problem hampered his chances.
"I injured the ankle playing Ivo Karlovic the other day," said Verdasco afterwards. "I had to have it strapped and normally I never play with a bandage. But that was not the only reason I lost. It's just especially disappointing because it's important to feel the warmth of the public in your own city and I wasn't able to give them the victory they wanted."
In women's play, Samantha Stosur's great run continued. The Australian racked up her 13th victory in 14 matches when she beat Swiss left-hander Patty Schnyder 7-6, 6-2. The victory will ensure Stosur a WTA ranking of No. 7 next week -- the highest an Australian woman has been for 25 years.
Israel's Shahar Peer has also been enjoying a great season so far, and she advanced to the quarterfinals with a 7-6, 6-2 win over the Spaniard Arantxa Parra Santonja. Even more impressive was Jelena Jankovic's 6-2, 6-0 rout of yet another Spanish player, Anabel Medina Garrigues. That puts the rejuvenated Serb through to a last eight meeting with Aravane Rezai after the French player defeated Germany's Andrea Petkovic 6-4, 7-6.
Footnote : After their supper, Isner and Querrey went out to Court Six and, on a miserably dank and chilly evening, lost to the expert doubles team of Lukasz Kubot and Oliver Marach 6-0, 3-6, and 10-4 in the doubles tie break. At least they won't be able to blame the food. Every day, a professional food taster munches his way through every dish.
"We want to make absolutely sure the players don't get sick," said tournament director Manolo Santana who played on the tour in the days when everything was a little less scientific.