By John Delong
It was business as usual for top-seeded John Isner on Tuesday night at the Winston-Salem Open.
He won a tiebreak, he got stronger as the match progressed, and – of course – he won, beating Bradley Klahn 7-6 (5), 6-2 in the second round in his 2014 WSO debut.
The Greensboro native is now a perfect 11-0 on Center Court at the Wake Forest Tennis Complex at BB&T Field, coupled with his titles here in 2011 and 2012. He missed last year’s tournament because of a hip injury.
“I thought tonight was pretty comprehensive,” Isner said. “It’s a great way to start the tournament, because I played well in the second set. I picked up my game there, so I’m going to use that to build up some confidence going forward in this tournament.”
The victory moved Isner into a third-round matchup against 13th-seeded Mikhail Kukushkin on Wednesday night.
Isner chuckled about the performance, because it was a quintessential Isner victory. Booming serves that got as high as 138 on the radar gun. 13 aces. 69 percent serving and 84 percent first serves won. A tiebreak, naturally. And he faced only two break points all night, saving both.
“It was a match we’ve seen a lot in my career,” he said. “I win a first set that I could have easily lost, then I played a lot better the second set. Obviously it was a tale of two sets. I thought he played pretty well in the first set but obviously his level dropped off in the second set. And I was able to take advantage of that.”
Isner was actually down a mini-break in the tiebreak before he reeled off four straight points and eventually served out the set. Then he won the first four games of the second set, and from there it was just a matter of how quickly he could wrap it up.
“I’m very confident in tiebreakers,” he said. “He was serving at 3-2 in the tiebreaker and I played two very good points after that, so that gave me a lot of momentum and I was able to close it out from there. Then I told myself just to stay solid at the start of the second set. My coach told me in his last match he started making a lot of errors so I really had that in the back of my mind. And he started to make some errors again tonight.”
Klahn, the 2010 NCAA champion from Stanford who has reached as high as No. 63 earlier this year, had beaten Wake Forest freshman Noah Rubin 6-2, 0-6, 7-6 (5) in his first-round match on Sunday night.
He was playing just his second match in five weeks after being sidelined with a foot injury.
“I came out with nothing to lose,” Klahn said. “I had my chances in the first set. I was very pleased with the way I played in the first set, the way I returned. It’s always difficult to go up against someone serving like John, but I thought I did a pretty good job of making him earn his service games. Sometimes there was nothing I could do, he just came up with big serves.
“It was a great atmosphere and it was special to play out there and to play against John. It’s the first time I’ve played him and I really enjoyed it. That’s what I play for, to be in those situations more and more.”
Isner has played Kukushkin just once previously, prevailing 6-7 (6), 7-6 (4), 6-3, 7-6 (4) in the second round at Roland Garros in May.
“He’s extremely good from the baseline, very, very good,” Isner said. “His serve is not his best part, but he backs it up with very good play. I played him in the French Open and I beat him in four very, very tight sets. I swear it was 40 degrees and it was raining and it was damp and cold and we really were playing in mud. So barring rain, tomorrow night will be very, very different conditions.”