Monday, April 15, 2013

Isner Wins 1st Career Clay Title In Houston (Over Almagro)

AP Photo/Eric Gay
John Isner of the United States won his first title of 2013 and the 6th of his career by defeating Nicolas Almagro of Spain 6-3 7-5 at the U.S. Clay Court Championships in Houston, Texas on Sunday. It was the American's first career win on clay, and he had to beat 2012 U.S. Clay Court champion Juan Monaco in the semifinal and one of the Top 5 clay court players in the world to do it. Tennis reporter Matt Cronin ranks the Top 5 clay court players in the world as (Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic, Roger Federer, David Ferrer and then Almagro. Note the glaring absence of World #2 Andy Murray from this list!) So this was quite a significant achievement for the 27-year-old American who turns 28 on Thursday. His 6 titles include 3 on outdoor hard-court, 2 on grass and 1 on clay. His record in ATP tour finals is now 6 wins and 7 losses (including last year in the final of the same tournament to Monaco). Almagro is also 27 but has won 12 ATP titles (all on clay) and now has a 12-7 record in finals.

Both Almagro and Isner have huge serves, and are currently #1 and #2 on the ATP World Tour MatchFacts for number of aces served in 2013 (266 and 258, respectively). This counts the record 60 aces that Isner served this week in Houston on his way to the title, including 7 in the final, with speeds up to 144 miles per hour. Pete Sampras had previously held the record in Houston with 52.

Isner can't rest on his laurels however; hours after winning he was on a plane to Europe because his first match at the Monaco Masters is probably on Tuesday. That's where 8-time defending champion Rafael Nadal is very likely to win his 9th title since both Federer and Ferrer are not in the draw and Djokovic is likely to withdraw due to the ankle injury he suffered last weekend dispatching Sam Querrey and the United States in the Davis Cup quarterfinals. World #2 Murray is hoping to at least put up his resistance and reduce the size of Djokovic's sizable lead for the top spot by doing well in his half of the draw. Nadal needs to do well in the clay court season if he is to have a chance to remain in the Top 5 before Roland Garros, although it is very possible the King of Clay could win his 8th French Open title without being seeded #1, but a low seed could have him run into fellow members of Cronin's Top 5 clay court list in the quarterfinals or semifinals, which could complicate Rafa's goal to cement his status as the best clay court player of all time.

Last year, Rafa won every tournament he played in on clay except Madrid, where he lost to fellow Spaniard Fernando Verdasco (for the first time in 14 meetings!) on blue clay. (The Madrid Masters will be played on red clay this year.) It's very possible that he could sweep all three clay court ATP Masters tournaments (in Monaco, Madrid and Rome) this year, something he has only done once before, in 2010. In 2010, Nadal was also coming back from an injury lay-off and had his best year on tour winning 3 majors (2010 French Open over Robin Soderling, 2010 Wimbledon over Tomas Berdych and 2010 US Open over Djokovic). Will 2013 be a reprise of 2010? Time will tell.

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