By John Delong
If this continues, they’ll have to start calling it the John Isner Open.
The Greensboro native and World No. 10 won the second annual Winston-Salem Open for the second straight year on Saturday afternoon, as he gutted out a 3-6, 6-4, 7-6 (9) thriller over World No. 7 Tomas Berdych in a heart-stopping final.
Isner fought off three match points in the third-set tiebreaker, and wound up winning the final three points to claim his second ATP World Tour title of the year and the fifth of his career. He also successfully defended his title at Newport earlier this summer.
"It’s a great feeling," Isner said. "Actually, both my titles this year are the exact same titles I won last year. Defending a title is not easy. There’s pressure on you coming into the tournament. So for me to do that both here at Winston-Salem and Newport should help me tremendously going forward.
"I’m just absolutely thrilled. It was a very good match. It was an incredible atmosphere to play in out there. There were certainly some tense times all throughout the match. You know, at times it probably wasn’t the prettiest, but I was able to gut it out and I’m very, very proud of that. It’s a lot of fun to win in front of pretty much a 100 percent home crowd. That’s what I had last year, and I had it again this year."
This was every bit as dramatic as Isner’s win over top-seeded Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in Friday’s semifinals, when Isner also pulled out a third-set tiebreaker. It gave him victories over two Top 10 players in two days heading into next week’s US Open.
Coupled with a semifinal appearance at Toronto in his previous tournament – he skipped Cincinnati – he will ride a wave of confidence into Flushing Meadow.
"I’m heading into New York full of confidence," Isner said. "I have played well ever since my first-round loss at Wimbledon. I don’t know what my record is, I think I’ve only lost three matches. So I’m heading into New York feeling good about myself. Yeah, I’m a little bit tired, but I have time to recover. I’d rather be a little bit fatigued and confident than 100 percent fresh and not so sure about myself."
The third-set tiebreaker was full of momentum swings, and had a near-sellout crowd at the Harold and Mildred Southern Stadium court on the edge of their seats.
Isner had two mini-breaks early, but Berdych rallied to win four straight points and eventually led 6-5, serving for the match. Berdych had a backhand volley to clinch the match, but missed into the net.
Back on serve at that point, each continued to win their serves until Isner got the final mini-break and claimed the title with a forehand winner down the line.
Berdych could only ponder what might have been on the errant backhand volley at 6-5.
"Well, there is probably not much to say about it," Berdych said. "It was a point which I’m going to see for a long time. I try to forget it as fast as possible, so there’s not much to say."
"I was prepared to all-out dive if the ball got over the net," Isner said. "Look, I know I’m fortunate to win this match. It could have easily gone the other way. But I don’t know what to say. I always consider myself a lucky guy and it happened again today.
"But no shots were really easy today because of the (windy) conditions. It was hard to get on top of the ball, it was moving pretty much everywhere. So even a routine shot there, it was not that easy, considering the circumstances of the match point and the conditions. I was just happy to get into the point and kinda scrapped it out and he made a mistake at the end on a ball he probably normally makes. At that point, you just want to make him play."
Berdych, who came as a last-minute wildcard, had many good things to say about the tournament and the Wake Forest Tennis Complex, and didn’t rule out returning again next year. He acknowledged his disappointment in losing, and said he needed to get this loss out of his mind as quickly as possible heading to New York.
"Probably it couldn’t feel much worse, but that’s how it is and that’s the situation," Berdych said. "I need to deal with it now and just try to put it out and go ahead. I won some matches and that was the goal when I come here, so I was pretty successful. It will take some time but next week, Monday or Tuesday, I’m starting in New York, so I won’t be thinking of the past."
Isner, who beat Martin Klizan, Jurgen Melzer and David Goffin in early rounds, wound up with 94 aces in his five matches.
In the doubles final, the team of Santiago Gonzalez and Scott Lipsky beat top-seeded Rohan Bopanna and Mariusz Fyrstenberg 6-3, 4-6, 10-2.