WIMBLEDON — John Isner was up two sets and had a 4-0 lead in the third set tiebreaker of his second-round match on Wednesday before blowing the lead.
The American with the height and the serve to be a perennial contender on the Wimbledon grass was instead forced off the court by raindrops, and he spent a long night replaying his mistakes while waiting for his match with Ruben Bemelmans to resume Thursday afternoon.
“All the stuff is running through my head,” Isner said. “I’m half asleep, I’m not really asleep. We have all been there. You have something weighing on you. But, you know, fortunately I didn’t feel like tired today. I still had a lot of adrenaline running through my body.”
With 64 aces and a high speed of 144 mph on his serve, No. 9 Isner returned to the court on Thursday to write the ending he wanted all along, a 6-1, 6-4, 6-7 (6), 6-7 (3), 7-5 win over the Belgian qualifier.
Isner, 33, has been here before — the big matches and the rain delays — and he even had a timely reminder. On the way to complete this match, he walked by a plaque commemorating the longest match ever played at this venue, his 2010 win over Nicolas Mahut that took three days to complete between rain and darkness. The match lasted 11 hours and five minutes.
The 6-foot-10 American doesn’t want that to be the match that defines him here.
“It will go down in history forever, and I was a part of it,” Isner said. “So I think especially the casual tennis fan, of course that’s what they know me by, and that’s fine. But I like to think that since then I have done a lot of good stuff in my career to maybe shed that as the lasting image of my career.”
Former Wimbledon champions No. 2 Rafael Nadal and No. 12 Novak Djokovic both came through their second round matches fairly easily. Nadal defeated Mikhail Kukushkin, 6-4, 6-3, 6-4, while Djokovic topped Horacio Zeballos, 6-1, 6-2, 6-3. Djokovic played through a knee injury but said he didn’t anticipate it being a factor in future matches.
“It was a bad move during the point,” Djokovic said. “It affected my knee a little bit. Yeah, I felt it all the way to the end of the match basically, last couple games. I’ve been doing checkups now. It seems like it’s nothing major.”
Unlike Isner, No. 3 Marin Cilic did not fare well after rain halted his second-round match on Wednesday. Cilic was bringing impressive bona fides as a finalist here last year, an Australian Open finalist and having just won his second straight title at the grass-court Queens tournament the week before Wimbledon.
The Croatian couldn’t maintain his lead after sleeping on it, and lost to unseeded Argentinian Guido Pella, 3-6, 1-6, 6-4, 7-6 (3), 7-5.
“I was just not feeling as comfortable as [Wednesday] with hitting. I was not as accurate,” Cilic said. “I was just missing some balls, some easy balls, giving him a chance to come back. That was playing the part. It was not just the pressure. It was me not executing on the court well.”
Losses by Cilic and No. 6 Grigor Dimitrov have opened up a gap in Isner’s quarter of the draw. He and No. 13 Milos Raonic are the highest seeds left.
For Isner, winning a fifth-set match here after losing so many is a good sign.
“I think today was very relieving sort of a monkey off my back, because I have lost a lot of five-set matches since that one in 2010,” Isner said. “ . . . It’s not just fifth set in general. It’s this event. So to finally come through on the good side of that feels amazing.”