Top-ranked American Andy Roddick, among the 2009 U.S. Open championship favorites six years after he won the tournament, Saturday night was sent packing by third-year pro John Isner in another late grapple in the Apple of the sort that have come to define the Open.
Isner, the 6-9 former University of Georgia all-American, was tiring badly as the day-session match strained toward its 9:23 p.m. finish, almost 2 1/2 hours after the Open's night session was supposed to start.
But Isner still was calm, and he still was very tall, right to the end - a factor Roddick judged to be key in Isner's 7-6 (3), 6-3, 3-6, 5-7, 7-6 (5) third-round victory.
"Obviously, hands down, biggest win of my career," Isner said. "Nothing even compares. I know I can really do some damage here now."
They wrestled each other for three hours and 51 minutes on virtually even terms, even though Roddick, at No. 5 ranked 50 places higher than Isner, was eyebrow deep in trouble after losing the first two sets.
Ultimately, Roddick would lose his serve only one time - and Isner only twice - but "there's a lot that's out of your hands with the way he plays," Roddick said.
"You can't teach 6-9. So it's not like the majority of matches that you play. Bottom line for the entire match is that he played great in the breakers; he rolled the dice . . . It's a tough one to lose, especially after coming back all the way."
Isner pressed Roddick not only with his blowtorch serve - he hit 38 aces to Roddick's 20 - but also with his looming presence. His 67 trips to the net, from whence he scored 42 winners, virtually blocked Roddick's view of the court, leaving him nowhere to go with the ball. Roddick, by contrast, scored on 13 of 27 net attacks.
"I don't know what the deal is now," the 6-2 Roddick said. "I was actually kind of tall when I first came on tour. That's just not close to the case anymore. It's not like I'm giving up an inch. I'm giving up a good five inches to the majority of my opponents this summer."
Still, Roddick used his noticeably improved fitness to hang around, and serving at 4-5, 30-40 in the fourth set, saved the first of four match points against him by striking an ace. Isner then hit a patch of sketchy play, spraying his forehand, allowing Roddick an 11th game break, and Roddick quickly served out the set and triggered a "Rod-dick! Rod-dick! Rod-dick!" chant among the thoroughly involved Arthur Ashe Stadium fans.
Isner, whose first Ashe Stadium appearance came two years ago when he took a set off Roger Federer in a third-round match just two months after his final college match, began to stroll ever slower between points, obviously wearing down physically. But the howitzer serves kept coming right through the fifth-set tiebreaker.
When Isner got a mini-break to go up 4-2 with a sharp cross-court backhand pass, the end was very near. And a young new American player - Isner is 24 - was in the tennis spotlight.
"I'm happy for him," Roddick said. "I'm mad, obviously, that it came at my expense. It wasn't about executing or how well I was hitting the ball. But, at this point, that doesn't make it better or easier, considering I'm out."