Roger Federer knew he would have his hands full against John Isner on Court Central. Sure, he was 5-1 against the altitudinous American, his only defeat coming in a Davis Cup clash on clay in 2012. But the Swiss was well aware of Isner’s record on the indoor courts of Paris, where the 6-foot-10 power server was 7-6 and had reached the semi-finals in 2011. With a serve like his, anything can happen.
“When I saw the draw and I saw I had a possibility of playing him in the second round,” Federer observed, “it's the kind of draw I don't really like to see.”
“I know it's not going to be easy,” said Federer prior to the match. “I need to make sure I focus on my own game and see what I can do on his serve. There are only so many opportunities. I'm aware of that. He goes through a lot of close matches. He's used to that kind of stuff. We're not used to that many tie-breakers and 7‑6s in the third.”
Prescient words from Federer, as Thursday’s Round-of-16 match-up would indeed come down to a third-set tie-break, Isner emerging victorious behind 27 aces 7-6(3), 3-6, 7-6(5).
As he showed at the BNP Paribas Masters, with no sun, no wind, no game-changing elements to affect his toss, Isner’s weapon of choice is as lethal as they come.
“I think he serves consistent throughout the year,” said Federer, who despite the loss registered 13 of his own aces and was never broken. “I think with him it's more can he serve big when he really needs it the most? Does indoors maybe help him there a little bit? Potentially. He's got the size, got the power, got the angles. I thought he did very well today when he needed it. The breakers, he served great. Those are the ones he needed. That was the difference."
On Wednesday, Federer needed just 47 minutes to dispatch Italian Andreas Seppi 6-1, 6-1. There would be no such brevity against the former collegiate standout, the three-set match lasting some two hours and 16 minutes.
Did his title run last week in Basel (d. Rafael Nadal 6-3, 5-7, 6-3) take a toll on his body?
“Maybe the eye was a thousandth of a second slower,” quipped the 34-year-old, who said he “played without pain” despite a mid-match visit from a trainer to check his arm. “I mean, what do you want me to tell you? I was definitely not tired from last night. I was ready to go today.”
Next up for Federer is the Nov. 15-22 Barclays ATP World Tour Finals, where he has had his share of success in the past. In fact, the World No. 2 has held the trophy at the year-end showdown on no less than six occasions.
“I have been there since 2002,” he said. “It's one of the tournaments that I’ve enjoyed most and that I’ve had a lot of pleasure winning. I'm happy I'm qualified. We'll see the groups, the round robins. I'm very eager to go to London and get prepared as well as I can. I'm in good shape. I'm healthy, so I want that tournament to start.”