John Isner powered his way to a five-set win over Milos Raonic and a trip to the U.S. Open quarterfinals.
NEW YORK — John Isner—with all his finger-twirling, fist-pumping histrionics stirring the crowd—had just clinched his first U.S. Open quarterfinal berth since 2011 when his thoughts flashed to someone who wasn't at the stadium to celebrate: his wife, Maddie.
She was home, expecting the couple's first child.
Isner hoped he had another big delivery up first—a U.S. Open title.
''Why not me?'' Isner asked.
With his booming serve leading the way, why not indeed?
Isner, seeded 11th, slipped past Milos Raonic for the second time this season in a Grand Slam with a 3-6, 6-3, 6-4, 3-6, 6-2 victory on Sunday night.
Isner needed four sets to defeat Raonic at Wimbledon on the way to the semifinals, his best showing at a major. The 33-year-old Isner is playing the best tennis of his career. He won the Miami Open and the Atlanta Open and was the highest-seeded American man at the U.S. Open for the seventh straight year.
Isner improved to 5-1 lifetime against the 25th-seeded Raonic. Raonic, the last Canadian left in the singles draw, needed treatment on his back after the fourth set. The 2016 Wimbledon runner-up failed to break Isner's serve in the three sets he lost—none, surprisingly, going to a tiebreaker between the big servers.
''There wasn't one in the fifth. That's a high-pressure situation,'' Isner said. ''I would have relished it if that moment did come, but I was able to win in a little bit easier fashion.''
Easier, and shorter, by his standard.
Isner is known for his marathon matches and he played another long one in Louis Armstrong Stadium, hitting 3 hours, 8 minutes. It must have seemed like a warmup compared to his 6 1/2-hour (including a 26-24 fifth set) loss to Kevin Anderson at Wimbledon. He would have played as long as needed to equal his best result in the U.S. Open.
Back on his home turf, Isner was a fan favorite in New York.
Isner had the crowd behind him on every point and the 6-foot-11 American pumped his fist on every winner. With Citi Field signage peeking through one side of Louis Armstrong, Isner proved the biggest power hitter at Flushing Meadows this year. The crowd erupted when he nailed a 141 mph ace to clinch the third set, and his 20 aces boosted his tournament-high total to 112.
''There are some matches I've played where I only just rely on my serve,'' he said. ''But I think more times than not this year I've shown some other ability. That comes from just being relaxed on the court.''
It was a pretty drop shot in the second that led to a Michael Jordan-esque shrug that might have been his best of the night.
''The crowd just kept me in it,'' Isner said. ''This atmosphere is like a jungle. It was amazing.''
Isner will play either 2009 U.S. Open champion Juan Martin del Potro or Borna Coric next.
Rafael Nadal is also through to the quarterfinals after beating Nikoloz Basilashvili 6-3, 6-3, 6-7 (6), 6-4. The defending champion will next face No. 9 seed Dominic Thiem. That will be a rematch of Nadal's victory in the French Open final and will be their first meeting not on clay. The top-ranked Spaniard improved to 8-2 in fourth-round matches in the U.S. Open, rebounding from dropping the tiebreaker in the third set Sunday to break the Georgian's serve twice in the fourth set.
Thiem advanced with a 7-5, 6-2, 7-6 (2) victory over Anderson, a finalist in the 2017 U.S. Open.
Isner joined Nadal and Thiem in the quarterfinals with another big win in a year full of them. But a bigger milestone is ahead, with the Isners expecting a daughter on Sept 22.
He keeps his phone ringer on loud and in his bag at all times in case a mad dash home is needed.
''That's definitely the most important thing going on right now in my life, more important than this tournament,'' he said. ''But as long as that baby is still in her belly, I'll be here.''