Best of Three: Isner gets back on track with Houston title
1. Isner breaks through on clay: His elephant gun of a serve notwithstanding, John Isner's great virtue is his unpredictability. His playing patterns are irregular. His shots are difficult to read. Players have longed complained that "he gives you no rhythm."
His fans can relate. Isner is terrifically streaky, capable of both spectacular and spectacularly lousy results. The same player who has beaten Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic in the last 15 months has also lost to Edouard Roger-Vasselin and Denis Istomin lately, part of his eviction from the top 20 and dismal start to 2013.
In need of some wins, Isner came up big last week at the U.S. Men's Clay Court Championship in Houston. He collected his first career clay-court title, beating top-seeded Nicolas Almagro 6-3, 7-5 in the final. The 27-year-old American won three-setters in his second match (over Jack Sock in a third-set tiebreaker), quarterfinals (Ricardas Berankis) and semifinals (Juan Monaco). Isner set a tournament record with 64 aces, breaking the mark of 60 set by Pete Sampras in 2002.
"I've always known I could play well on clay," Isner told reporters. "This week is a little surprising, as Monday was the first day I hit a ball on clay since September. I knew it was going to be a tough adjustment and that I had to find a way to get through my first match [a 7-6 (4), 6-4 victory over Ryan Harrison]. My second match was really close. I felt I played better each and every round."
2. Robredo resurgent: We recently praised one resurgent 30-something named Tommy. As in Haas, who, at age 34 (he's now 35), upset Djokovic at the Sony Open last month and is ranked No. 14.
This week, we write of another resurgent 30-something Tommy. As in Robredo, who, a few weeks from turning 31, won his 11th career title on Sunday, defeating Kevin Anderson 7-6 (6), 4-6, 6-3 in the Grand Prix Hassan II final in Morocco.
Once a top-five player, Robredo -- like Haas -- has been stung plenty by the injury bug. A leg issue had him pondering retirement last year, as he missed five months and watched his ranking drop to No. 471. This title, his first in more than two years, elevates him to the "dark horse" caste for Roland Garros. His days of contending for the big prizes are long gone, but it's nice to see him back and playing a high level.
"These points will help me a lot in the ranking," Robredo, who is No. 72, said after Sunday's victory, according to the ATP's website. "The goal is to arrive in Roland Garros in the best form possible. After that, I will sit down and have a look at my goals."
3. Give golf its due: As many of you know, we tend to dispense a fair amount of grief at the expense of golf, the quasi-sport played by participants wearing polyester pants and belts. A few days ago, I would have told you that the best part of the 2013 Masters was the presence of Bill Macatee.
Yet even we have to admit, Sunday's Masters finale was simply tremendous. "Great stuff," as the broadcast team put it. Clutch performances. Coldblooded shotmaking. Power. Accuracy. Will. Skill. Drama. The usual ingredients list for a magical sporting event.
If you were following on Twitter, you know the tennis world was invested and entranced, too. Heading into the playoff between Adam Scott and Angel Cabrera, Chris Evert tweeted, "Ok golf fans- I'm starting my red wine." Darren Cahill rejoiced when his Australian countryman Scott won. Andy Roddick simply tweeted, "#masters."
A tip of the tam-o'-shanter to golf. Maybe it's more of a sport than we often suggest. Especially because Scott won, not the chain-smoking grandfather.