Back and Forth

US Men’s Clay Court Championship, Quarterfinals

Karlovic d. Isner, 6/7 7/6 7/6

As advertisements for professional tennis go, you could probably come up with something less enticing than Ivo Karlovic versus John Isner, but you’d have to get creative. It might possibly involve Radek Stepanek in a backless frock. Still, if ever a claycourt encounter was going to evoke the halcyon days of grass court tennis in the mid-90s, this was it, so that’s another thing to tick off my list. It had it all: aces, torrents of games without a return finding the court, and very tall men trudging back and forth along the baseline. The dirt naturally blunted the serves, although both men’s returns proved equal to sharpening them up again. The final tiebreak made it to nine all, and Karlovic saved a couple of match points and duffed one with a double fault, but it still wasn’t exciting. The thrill of a tiebreak owes a lot to the tension of the set that has built up to it. When the tiebreak feels inevitable, the set becomes superfluous, its only function to get each server’s eye in.

Some masochists are already envisaging a potential Wimbledon encounter, where pundits will presumably be able to buy some commemorative slacks to match their ‘I Survived Isner – Mahut’ t-shirts, thus completing the outfit. I think there was an ‘I Slept Through Clement – Santoro’ beret from Roland Garros a few years ago. Speaking of clothes, given Karlovic’s capricious sense of humour, is it beyond hope that he gets ‘7-6’ embroidered onto his shirt somewhere, much like ‘RF’ or ‘Nole’, though without the self-importance?

Nishikori d. Fish, 6/3 6/2

By winning the Houston event, Mardy Fish would have moved into the top ten for the first time, just a week after he became the top American. Given that he has almost no points to defend until Queens, it’s a pretty safe bet that he’ll get there sooner rather than later, though it’ll be later than this week. Today’s befuddled loss to Kei Nishikori didn’t look like top ten material, except that the top ten currently includes Verdasco, Monfils and Melzer, and they play like this quite often. Fish will fit right in.

For his part, Nishikori was as appealing as always, spry as a whippet and launching groundstrokes whose penetration was entirely out of proportion with his size. How does he do it? I asked this question of a friend recently, and he replied that timing is the answer, which wasn’t much of an answer at all. It’s barely a step from saying he hits the ball well because he’s good at hitting the ball.

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