It took John Isner a while to get adjusted to his surroundings on Tuesday afternoon at the Winston-Salem Open.
But once the Greensboro native finally got comfortable, he took control and rolled on to a 7-6, 6-2 second-round victory over Dudi Sela.
Isner, the tournament’s No. 4 seed, moved into a third-round matchup against the winner of Tuesday night’s second-round match between Denis Istomin and 13th-seeded Jarkko Nieminen.
"It wasn’t exactly pretty, but I didn’t think it was going to be," Isner said. "Going from tournament to tournament, everything’s always different. There are different conditions, and a different ball than the last three weeks which, believe it or not, is a huge difference. So everything was just a little different than what I’ve been used to lately and it took awhile to adjust."
In other afternoon matches on the Harold and Mildred Southern Stadium Court, No. 5 seed Nikolay Davydenko beat Michael Russell 6-2, 6-2, and 10th-seeded Robin Haase beat James Blake 6-4, 6-1.
Isner relied on his trademark booming serve, which hit 138 miles per hour once for the fastest serve of the tournament. He had 17 aces in 10 service games, and had a first-serve percentage of 68 percent. He won 37 of 45 first-serve points, and was never broken.
"I think I served 75 percent or something for the match, and that’s higher than normal for me," Isner said. "You serve 75 percent, you’re going to hold serve a lot. I’m just fortunate to have that weapon. I had a lot of aces and unreturned serves as well, and it puts a lot of pressure on him. He may have felt that a little bit with some of his double-faults, because I was holding serve pretty easily, especially in the second set. I started serving better and everything started coming together."
Both players held serve throughout the first set before Sela double-faulted twice in the tie-break. Then Isner broke Sela in the second game of the second set, and took control of the match for good at that point.
"The only reason I won the first set is I was able to serve well when it mattered, and he double-faulted twice so he kinda handed it to me in that regard. That loosened me up and I played better in the second set after I got that first one under my belt."
Isner played in front of a fine and supportive Tuesday afternoon crowd, but he made it clear that his goal is to be around for packed houses later in the week. Saturday’s final is already sold out.
"It was nice to play in front of a home crowd," Isner said. "The goal is to get to the finals and play in front of a packed stadium. I hear the finals are sold out. It’s just nice to get through that one. The last thing I want to do is go to the US Open with a loss not playing well. That’s terrible, you know. I want to get some matches under my belt and I want to stay here at home as long as possible.
"I’m not a guy who likes to get up to tournaments early and practicce. There’s some people who do. The top four right now are in New York practicing. But that’s not the way I like to do it. I like to get there as late as possible. So if I can get to Saturday here, that means I’ll be showing up late."
Haase, the 10th seed who is currently ranked No. 42, was playing his first hardcourt tournament of the summer. He chose not to go through qualifying in Cincinnati or Montreal, instead staying in Europe after winning on clay at Kitzbuhel three weeks ago.
The 24-year-old Dutchman was pleased with his play overall, although he wasn’t happy with his first serve (52 percent).
"I think I played pretty well for the first hardcourt match since awhile," Haase said. "Only my first serve was bad. My second serve was actually pretty good, but I didn’t get in as many first serves as I should. I returned good. And, I felt he was pretty slow today on the second shot. That’s why I had a lot of free points, because when I hit a good shot he wasn’t ready for the ball. In the second set, he kinda got frustrated."
For Blake, it was his first loss ever in Winston-Salem. He was a perfect 6-0 in Davis Cup ties here and won his first-round match against Mikhail Kukushkin 7-5, 6-1 on Sunday night.
The 31-year-old New Yorker called it his worst performance of the summer hardcourt season.
"As I get to this age, I try to have a short memory about matches like that," Blake said. "It was just one of those days. Nothing seemed to be going right, wasn’t serving well, wasn’t returning well, just nothing was effective. It’s frustrating because the first round I thought I played pretty well, especially in the second set. I thought I was getting momentum and playing well. But that’s the worst match I’ve played all summer. It’s frustrating that it’s right before the Open, but the Open doesn’t start until next Monday so I’ve got some time to get on a practice court and get my confidence back hopefully."
Blake said he was disappointed not only for himself, but for the crowd that was clearly on his side.
"It’s a lot of fun to play in front of a crowd that’s cheering for you," Blake said. "It’s frustrating when you can’t come through for them. That’s the tough part of tennis. You feel great when you succeed in front of a home crowd and give them what they want, and it’s frustrating when you can’t. That’s what I’ve learned through the years. It’s a lot tougher to take when you feel like you’re letting others down. But they’ll get over it. They’ve still got Andy Roddick and John Isner to watch."
In other afternoon second-round singles matches, seventh-seeded Juan Monaco beat Tobias Kamke 7-5, 6-0; Steve Darcis beat 11th-seeded Dmitry Tursunov 3-6, 6-1, 6-3; qualifier Julien Benneteau beat 16th-seeded Igor Kunitsyn 6-3, 6-1; 14th-seeded Grigor Dimitrov beat Donald Young 6-4, 2-6, 7-6; qualifier Kei Nishikori beat 12th-seeded Pablo Andujar 7-6, 6-2; 10th-seeded Sergiy Stakhovsky beat Andrey Golubev 6-1, 2-6, 6-4; and lucky loser Pierre-Ludovic Duclos beat Ryan Harrison 7-5, 7-5. Duclos replaced Kevin Anderson, who withdrew Tuesday morning after a bout with food poisoning.