For the 12th time in their careers, Juan Martin del Potro and John Isner squared off in the paint, this time on the blue court of Arthur Ashe Stadium.
Isner, at 6-10, and del Potro, at 6-6, are not so much power forwards as power forehands. You knew what to expect — boom, boom and boom.
In the end, after an agonizingly sweaty 3 hours, 31 minutes, del Potro had more kaboom than Isner and took their U.S. Open quarterfinal match, 6-7 (5), 6-3, 7-6 (4), 6-2, Tuesday. That eliminated the last American man in the draw and gave del Potro an 8-4 edge head to head.
“Ay, yai yai,” del Potro said on the court once he had disposed of his saturated sweatbands and downed as much fluid as he could. “I am happy to reach another semifinal in my favorite tournament. It was like an epic match — we both tired, we both fight to the end and we both give it our all.”
In the kaboom category, Isner served 26 aces to del Potro’s 14, and he smacked 67 winners to del Potro’s 49. But the vast discrepancy in unforced errors — 52 for Isner, 14 for del Potro — proved crucial. Isner finished the tournament with 138 aces, far ahead of the field. Del Potro is third with 66.
Del Potro is the 2009 Open champion, and that remains his sole Grand Slam title. Four wrist surgeries along the way didn’t help things, and he’s lost a lot of time over the years going through recovery.
“I’m very happy for my level, for all I’ve been through to get in this position now,” del Potro said. “I think it doesn’t matter, the final result in the tournament. I’m just enjoying playing tennis again. I’m enjoying a lot the crowds like this. I like to play big battles with other guys. That makes me feel alive again.”
Isner won at Miami in March at the ATP Masters 1000 event, the biggest win of his career. Isner, now 33, was 32 when he won, the oldest player to have ever won that level of event, just below a Grand Slam. He also won at Atlanta. After the Miami win, he reached No. 8 in the world rankings, the highest of his career (he was No. 11 here).
After a first-round loss at the Australian Open, his Grand Slam season was quite good. Isner lost to del Potro in the fourth round of the French Open after beating Noah Rubin of Merrick in the first round. Isner played an epic match in the Wimbledon semifinals, losing to Kevin Anderson, 26-24, in the fifth set. It is the only Slam semifinal of his career, and he made the Open quarters for a second time.
“I lost in the first round of Australia. My year didn’t start off great at all,” Isner said. “But I have had a very good year, something that I’m proud of.
“It’s definitely something to build on. I’m still trying to build on things and learn from my experience at Wimbledon and here, two good results for me, back to back. Hopefully, I can play like this more in the future and get back to a stage like this more in the future.”