Greek young gun, Stefanos Tsitsipas seeks his first victory over John Isner, and a spot in the semi-finals of the China Open when he takes on the giant American in Beijing on Friday.
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Tsitsipas has needed three sets to get through his two matches so far, coming from a set down to beat both Dusan Lajovic and last year’s champion, Nikoloz Basilashvili.
It’s a very much-needed string of victories for the Greek, who had arrived Beijing on a five-match losing streak (excluding the Laver Cup). Prior to Beijing, he last won a match in Washington at the start of August, but he fell to Nick Kyrgios in the semi-finals, and followed up that defeat with successive opening round exits in Montreal, Cincinnati, New York and Zhuhai, where he retired against Adrian Mannarino after struggling in the tough conditions.
He’s recovered in time for Beijing, moving into semis with a three-set win over Basilashvili on Thursday. The world No. 7, who is very much on course for a debut appearance at the Nitto ATP Finals, struck eight aces, while winning 73% of points on his first serve and 65% on his second. He saved six of the seven break points he faced, but also struggled to convert the opportunities he created on Basilashvili’s serve. He needed 12 chances before eventually breaking, and was 3 of 17 on break points for the match. It is extremely unlikely he gets as many opportunities against Isner on Friday, and hence, will need to be more clinical with those numbers.
Tsitsipas has not had as much success in the second half of the season as he did in the first, when he famously made the semi-finals of the Australian Open, won titles in Marseille and Estoril, reached finals in Dubai and Madrid, and took his place amongst the world’s top ten.
He faces former top-ten star, Isner on Friday, with a spot in the last four on the line.
Isner reached the semi-finals of the China Open in 2010, but the American has fallen in the quarter finals in his next four visits to Beijing- 2013, 2014, 2015 and 2017.
He’s back in the quarter finals in 2019 following victories over Gael Monfils and Daniel Evans- can he scale this hurdle for the first time since 2010?
Unsurprisingly, Isner’s serve has been the backbone of his progress in Beijing, as he is yet to be broken in his two matches so far, saving a cumulative three break points in matches against Monfils and Evans. He tallied 22 aces in his 6-4 6-7 6-3 victory over Monfils, and fell just one short in the second round, when he took out Evans 7-6 7-5.
The 34-year-old is into his first semi-final since he won the Newport title in July. Isner opened his season with consecutive opening round defeats in Auckland and the Australian Open, but he picked up the pace after that, reaching consecutive semi-finals at the New York open, Delray Beach and Acapulco. A few weeks later, he made the final of the Miami Open (where he was defending champion), but that run came at a cost, as he sustained a foot injury, and would be ruled out for the next three months.
Isner returned to action at Wimbledon, and won Newport in his second tournament back, but that has been the exception to a series of ordinary outings, as he has failed to reach the quarter finals in six of seven tournaments since his return from injury.
He’s back in the quarters in Beijing, looking to make the semis in the Chinese capital for the first time since 2010. He has had success against his next opponent, Tsitsipas in their past meetings, winning 7-6 7-6 in Shanghai in 2017, and 6-4 7-6 7-6 at Wimbledon last year.
The matches have clearly been tight, and Friday’s rematch should be another close one. It will most likely be another serve-dominated contest that will come down to very few chances. Given that Isner has played that shot a lot better than Tsitsipas (and virtually anybody else) this week, as he almost seems to do every week, and his winning record against the Greek, the American has the edge in this one in my opinion.
Stefanos Tsitsipas vs John Isner is live from Beijing on Friday, 4 October from 4:30pm local time/ 9:30am BST