By John Delong
John Isner is no longer unbeaten at the Winston-Salem Open.
Isner’s 13-match winning streak in the tournament came to a frustrating end on Wednesday night as #NextGen phenom Borna Coric dominated en route to a 7-5, 6-2 third-round victory.
Isner simply didn’t have it on a hot and muggy night, and even a large crowd of pro-Isner supporters couldn’t lift the Greensboro native’s level of play.
Isner, who came into the tournament as the No. 3 seed ranked No. 14 in the latest ATP World Tour rankings, was almost apologetic afterward.
“To Borna’s credit, I thought he played well,” Isner said. “I thought he played a pretty smart match. But it’s tough. I just didn’t think I had my legs beneath me, and it’s tough being able to compete at the highest level when I felt I was coming in here at a little bit of a disadvantage given the tournament last week in Cincinnati. So it’s disappointing. I couldn’t will myself to play better. Sometimes your body just doesn’t respond. But for me I have to look at it as the silver lining is I get more rest for the US Open, so it could be a blessing in disguise.”
Isner had reached the semifinals at Cincinnati last week and didn’t arrive here until Monday. He had also seemed fatigued in a 2-6, 7-6 (5), 6-3 second-round win over Andrey Kuznetsov on Tuesday night.
“Any time I come back home it’s great, whether it’s for this tournament or the holidays, it’s always awesome,” Isner said. “The best part of it is that crowd. Especially last night, they willed me to win that match when I wasn’t all there. They tried again tonight, but it just wasn’t meant to be.”
Isner had won the 2011 and 2012 Winston-Salem Opens, and had won two matches in 2014 before getting injured and withdrawing.
Coric faced only one break point all night was quickly saved it. He had only two aces all night, but one of them came at match point. He got the only break he needed in the first set to go up 6-5, then served out the set. And then he just totally dominated the second set.
“He’s very hot and cold, very streaky,” Isner said of Coric. “Sometimes I think he would say this much, sometimes his strokes go off on his forehand side. I played him last year in Davis Cup and he was missing quite a bit of forehands. But that really wasn’t the case tonight. He’s streaky, but I’d say right now he is on a really good streak.”
Coric, a 20-year-old Croatian, came into the tournament ranked No. 62. He had climbed as high as No. 33 as an 18-year-old two years ago, before injuries started taking their toll. He’s been streaky this year for sure, losing in the first round of no fewer than 11 tournaments but also claiming his maiden ATP World Tour title, in Marrakech.
“It means a lot, definitely,” Coric said when asked about beating Isner before a home crowd. “The last few months I haven’t been playing very good so it does give me some extra confidence for the next tournament, which is obviously very important.”
Coric was most pleased with his return of serve, as he broke Isner four times. That’s more service breaks than Isner had all summer in winning in Newport and Atlanta, and then reaching the semis in Cincinnati.
“It was a really important first set,” he said. “It was very close. There were a couple of chances for him, I think I lost a couple, so it was very exhausting. That’s when I thought he might play with a little more energy but that didn’t happen. I think I was returning very good today. One of the best returns I have ever played. And also I think he wasn’t serving his best. I just find my space on the return. I was standing in the right position, and it worked.”
In other matches on Stadium Court, sixth-seeded Steve Johnson beat Carlos Berlocq 7-6 (1), 6-4; and top-seeded Roberto Bautista Agut beat Marcos Baghdatis 6-3, 6-4.
Johnson was very efficient in his victory, never facing a break point throughout the match. He finished with nine aces.
Johnson had opened the tournament with a 6-4, 6-3 win over Yen-Hsun Lu on Tuesday, after coming to the WSO winless throughout the summer hard-court season. He said he felt he is starting to build some momentum.
“I felt like I improved on what I needed to improve on from yesterday, and there’s still room for improvement, so now I get another chance tomorrow,” said Johnson, who will meet qualifier Kyle Edmund in Thursday’s quarterfinals. “Any time you can win matches, it calms the nerves, the beliefs start getting a little stronger. Confidence is a big thing in tennis and every day I feel like I’m getting better and better.”
Bautista Agut, last year’s runner-up, is now 8-2 all-time at the WSO.
“Winston-Salem has been good for me,” Bautista Agut said. “I like to play on hard court. It’s a good surface for me. It was tough to win today against Baghdatis. I had control of the match, I thought, but every match has difficulty, and I was able to come back and close the match out. It was a good win for me. I remember last year we played almost three hours (in the third round). It was very long. So I’m glad this year was shorter.”
The victory gave Bautista Agut the 200th match win of his career. He has a career record of 200-124.
“I’m very happy for that,” he said. “It’s been behind a lot of work, a lot of practice, and a lot of good things to get 200 wins.”
In other matches on outer courts, Kyle Edmund cruised to a 6-2, 6-1 win over Marton Fucsovics; Damir Dzumhur beat Horacio Zeballos 7-5, 6-3; American #NextGen star Taylor Fritz beat seventh-seeded Paolo Lorenzi 7-6 (3), 7-6 (5); Jan-Lennard Struff beat Andreas Seppi 6-3, 6-7 (3), 7-6 (3); and 13th-seeded Hyeon Chung won when Julien Benneteau retired in the second set with Chung leading 6-4, 1-1.