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Beyond the Baseline

John Isner breaks his five-set bug, outlasts Ryan Harrison at French Open

John Isner John Isner, who is into the third round, has matched his career-best result at the French Open. (Christophe Ena/AP)

By Nick Zaccardi

PARIS -- Three thoughts on No. 19 John Isner’s 5-7, 6-7 (7), 6-3, 6-1, 8-6 win over Ryan Harrison in the second round of the French Open on Friday …

1. Isner notches a first. Mr. 70-68 had never come from two sets to none down to win a match. It took 10 break points before Isner finally gained the advantage on his younger U.S. compatriot in the final set, which lasted 71 minutes (10 more minutes than Serena Williams was on the court Friday). The 6-foot-9 Isner let loose two facets not usually part of his game -- deft drop shots and a grunt.

"A lot of times I go five sets, and I have to go a long five sets," Isner told ESPN2 after the match. "I was knocking on the door the whole fifth set. … The main thing to me was I was able to stay composed."

Something had to give in the fifth set. Harrison had never won a match that went the distance. Isner, despite that marathon victory over Nicolas Mahut at Wimbledon in 2010, owned a 4-11 five-set record, with four of those losses coming in Grand Slam events in 2012.

Isner, 28, advanced to face German Tommy Haas, a 35-year-old U.S. citizen who beat 20-year-old American Jack Sock 7-6 (3), 6-2, 7-5. Isner has never made the fourth round of the French Open.

"I will be able to recover, I know that much," said Isner, who was knocked out in the second round last year, 18-16 in the fifth by Paul-Henri Mathieu in 5:41. "It’s going to be a tough match, but I’ll be ready for it."

A win over Haas could mark a turning point in Isner’s topsy-turvy season. He missed the Australian Open with a knee injury and lost the top American ranking to Sam Querrey before the clay season began. He won the U.S. Men’s Clay Court Championships in Houston (green clay) but had gone 1-4 on European clay entering Roland Garros.

Ryan Harrison Ryan Harrison fell short in his bid to make the third round of a major for the first time. (Julian Finney/Getty Images)

2. How much longer can we call Harrison a promising talent? He’s gotten a reprieve, given his horrible draws in majors, where he’s never reached the third round. But this was his opportunity, especially after winning those first two hard-fought sets. And then saving break point after break point in the fifth. But he couldn’t seize his one break chance in the fifth.

"It was definitely a tough one,” Harrison said. "Sometimes you give it all you’ve got, and you come up a little short."

Commend him for the effort and fitness, but Harrison, ranked No. 92, had played Challengers to get that number back into double digits after tumbling from a season-starting No. 69. He's still only 21, younger than Donald Young was during his fourth-round run at the 2011 U.S. Open. Time hasn’t run out, but it’s certainly ticking.

"To say that I’m not frustrated by it is a lie," Harrison said. "I want to be in later rounds, the second week, and be doing greater things than I’m doing now. … I competed my butt off out there."

3. Is this the year a U.S. man makes a run? None made it past the second round the last two years, so there’s already been progress. It’s not likely, however, that anyone will better Robby Ginepri’s surprising fourth-round appearance in 2010. The last American quarterfinalist was Andre Agassi in 2007.

The only other U.S. man left, No. 18 Sam Querrey, was set to play later against No. 15 Gilles Simon. The winner of that match gets No. 2 Roger Federer in the fourth round, though. Isner was swept by Haas on a hard court earlier this year and would face another seed in the fourth round.

Harrison and Sock were the young hopes in Paris. Veterans Brian Baker and Mardy Fish are out with health issues. This year’s Wimbledon will be the first without Andy Roddick since 2000, and nobody has stepped up to fill his void yet.

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