Isner confident despite daunting task against Nadal at Italian Open

ROME (AP) — At 37, John Isner is just happy to be back touring Europe with his wife and three kids.

No longer dreaming of a Grand Slam title, he is trying to make the end of his tennis career not look like “such a job” and to make it “fun”.

Still, there’s serious business ahead on Wednesday with a second-round match against 10-time champion Rafael Nadal in the second round of the Italian Open.

And get this: Isner thinks he has a chance against the record 21 Grand Slam title holder.

While Isner has beaten Nadal just once in eight previous encounters – and that lone victory has come indoors – the heavy-serving American pushed Nadal to five sets at the 2011 French Open .

“It’s a very exciting opportunity for me,” Isner said in an interview with The Associated Press on Tuesday. “At 37, I’m getting another crack at one of the greatest of all time.”

“In my opinion and I think Rafa would say it too, he’s not playing the best he’s ever played,” Isner added. “He was injured and he just came back. So he may not have the full level of confidence he’s used to. So maybe I can try to take advantage of it.

The 6-foot-10 Isner certainly looked confident in a 6-4, 6-3 first-round win over Miami Open semifinalist Francisco Cerundolo.

Nadal, meanwhile, is preparing to play his second tournament since returning from a stress fracture in his ribs that kept him out of action for six weeks. Nadal was beaten by Spanish teenager Carlos Alcaraz in the Madrid Open quarter-finals last week.

In other action on the red clay courts of Foro Italico, five-time champion Novak Djokovic looked solid in a 6-3, 6-2 win over Aslan Karatsev in his opener.

Djokovic missed several key tournaments earlier this year because he was not vaccinated against the coronavirus – which led to him being kicked out of Australia ahead of the first Grand Slam of the year.

Still looking for his first title in 2022, Djokovic showed vintage scrambling abilities late in the first set when he knocked down a shot near the net post and then sprinted across the net to dig up a winner of low backhand volley.

“You always hope to be able to play exciting and engaging points and come out on top from those points and celebrate with the crowd,” Djokovic said. “That’s what the crowd is looking for – they’re looking for energy, excitement, a fight and they want to see good tennis.

“It’s always great to play in the Colosseum of tennis,” added Djokovic.

In a women’s clash between two US Open champions, Bianca Andreescu advanced when Emma Raducanu retired with a lower back injury with Andreescu ahead 6-2, 2-1.

Isner recently won doubles titles in Indian Wells and Miami with partners Jack Sock and Hubert Hurkacz, respectively.

“I spent a lot of time on the match pitch and I didn’t spend a lot of time on the training pitch, that’s exactly how I would like to have it,” said Isner, who is back in Rome. after missing the Italian Open the past two years during the pandemic.

“I like that the game lasted about an hour and a half today,” Isner said. “So I don’t think it took me too long.”

Isner also plays in an eye-catching doubles partnership in Rome with diminutive Argentine Diego Schwartzman – who is 15 inches shorter than him. They won their opener on Monday.

“It makes for a good shot,” Isner said. “And on top of that, I think we’re pretty good.”

Including Isner, there were eight Americans in the singles draw at the start of the tournament – tying host Italy for the most players of any country. Jenson Brooksby, Tommy Paul and Marcos Giron also reached the second round.

“American men’s tennis, I can really say right now, is definitely on the rise,” Isner said.

So Isner, still ranked in the top 30, is he planning to retire?

“Not right away. But it’s certainly weird to see a lot of my contemporaries retiring or about to retire,” he said, mentioning Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, Kevin Anderson and Juan Martin del Potro – all of whom have recently retired or plan to do so soon.

“I’m still ranked relatively high and still top-seeded at the Grand Slams and I’m still hungry,” Isner added. “So I want to try to continue.”

Next up for Isner will be his 53rd Grand Slam tournament at Roland Garros, which begins on May 22.

But first, he will take his family for a short break on the Spanish island of Mallorca.

“Go rent a spot on the beach and enjoy it,” he said. “I try to make it very, very fun and I do that with my family here.”


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