The local favorite is through to the Winston-Salem Open finals.
Greensboro’s John Isner knocked out top seed Andy Roddick on Friday afternoon with a 7-6, 6-4 victory in the day’s first semifinal.
Isner fought off one set point and won the tiebreaker 9-7 to claim the first set, then rallied after being down a break in the second set and broke Roddick twice.
The 6-9 rocket launcher has embraced this first-year tournament throughout the week, and now he is reaping the rewards. He’ll face the winner of Friday night’s other semifinal between qualifier Julien Benneteau and 10th-seeded Robin Haase.
"It’s nice to be in the finals," Isner said. "I was just looking forward to coming back home because it’s been eight months, since Christmas, since I’ve been in the state of North Carolina. So it’s just nice coming back home.
"Even though this is my fourth event in a row, I was fresh, and I definitely wanted to do well here. It’s just such an important event for me because I want to go to New York with momentum, and I have that now."
Isner, the fourth seed, had defeated Dudi Sela, Jarkko Nieminen and Marcos Baghdatis to reach Friday’s semifinals.
It was his second win in five matches against Roddick.
Isner won the first set tiebreaker after both players held serve throughout the set, usually easily. The key points in the tiebreaker came when Roddick missed wide with an open court leading 5-4, and then Isner took a 6-5 lead when his overhead smash bent the net, fell across and hit the line for a winner.
"I was just flat-out luckier than he was in the first set," Isner said. "In a match with me vs. Andy, a lot of times that’s what it’s going to come down to, and today I caught the break. I was just luckier than he was. That’s how it goes sometimes."
"The one ball I wish I had back, I think I was up 4-5 in the first-set breaker, I hit a good return and then I pulled a forehand a little," "Roddick said. "That would have put me up 6-4 in the first-set breaker. Then at 5-all he hit the let cord that hit the line. I think I could have mitigated a lot of his good playing in the second set if I would have won that. I think it’s a different mindset when you’re tired coming back in the second set as opposed to finishing it up."
Roddick broke for a 3-1 lead in the second set, and conventional wisdom suggested that he would serve out the set and force a third set.
But Isner broke back immediately to get back on serve, and then got his second break of the second set for a 5-4 lead. He then serve out the set and ended the match with his eighth ace of the afternoon.
Isner might have been tempted to conserve energy after getting down a break because of hot and humid weather that was visibly draining him. But he took a couple of chances early in the game, got up love-30, and then continued to roll the dice.
"In a match like that, it’s really, really important to try to get up in the return game, love 15, love 30," Isner said. "It just puts pressure on him. When he’s serving at 15-love, 30-love, that’s when he’s serving his best in my opinion. I was able to put some returns back in play and played aggressively, and the next thing you know I was up love-30. Then I had 15-40 and guessed right and hit a forehand winner, and we were dead even again. So it was huge for me to get up early in the game."
Roddick could only shake his head afterward.
"Besides the two games he broke me, I don’t know if he won a point against my serve," Roddick said. "It’s just a matter of if he gets them in a row. He took some chances and they paid off. He’s able to play riskier because his serve is like State Farm."
For Roddick, it was a disappointing end to an otherwise good week. He came here with the specific intent of getting as many matches as possible, in just his second tournament back after being shelved with an abdominal strain.
"Obviously I’m upset, because I feel I played the better first set," Roddick said. "He definitely played the better second set. But to get four matches – I hadn’t played tennis at all. I was off for a while before Wimbledon, played Wimbledon, was off for a while after Wimbledon. So I’m really happy. I haven’t played four matches in a week since February or March. So I think this week served its purpose for me in terms of preparation for the US Open."