Match Report: Isner vs Monaco, Indian Wells Round 3

A second round clash between the prototypical big server (Isner) and baseline scrapper (Monaco). This match was ultimately won in the mind, with Monaco becoming tight on crucial points and Isner taking advantage.

Monaco started the stronger of the two, earning break points in several of Isner’s service games early on in the first set. He failed to take any of them, and was punished by a late break of serve, handing Isner the first set 7-5. The native of North Carolina was becoming increasingly confident on Monaco’s serve, and created several break chances early in the second set, which he failed to take. He followed this up with a sloppy service game of his own at 2:3, going down 15-40. A second serve ace (a slice serve which landed plum on the side line), followed by a 141mph first serve quickly dismissed both break points, demonstrating what a devastating combination Isner has in his giant serve and steely fortitude. Having missed break point opportunities in both sets, Monaco was put to the test on his own service game at 5-6. The Argentine faced and saved three match points, the second one spectacularly so, hitting a drop volley off his shoe laces for a clean winner. Finally, Isner secured the match on his fourth match point, courtesy of a Monaco unforced error from the backhand.

Tennis is often a game of risk-management, and this match was no different. Players at the professional level know their own strengths and weaknesses inside out, and often know their opponent’s too. In this case, John Isner knew his weak mobility and backhand would be exposed in longer rallies, therefore his most viable strategy was to keep points as short as possible, unloading on the forehand whenever possible. His challenge was to take on enough forehands so that Monaco could not settle into his baseline game, but without totally compromising his consistency.

Monaco is naturally a more risk-averse player. At home on clay and slow hard courts, he plays an unremarkable brand of baseline tennis; a functional serve, great lateral mobility on the baseline, solid two handed backhand, and a forehand which he likes to hit inside-out. What he needed to avoid at all costs was anything played short and in the middle of the court which Isner could attack with his forehand. This led to him hitting a very high percentage of first serves (above 70%), the majority kicked to the Isner backhand. This generally elicited a weak, mid-court reply from Isner, which allowed Monaco to initiate his preferred pattern of play, hitting inside out forehands to a (relatively) weak right-handers backhand.

As in so many of his victories, Isner achieved a narrow victory through managing his risk better than his opponent. Starting in the second set, he became increasingly offensive on Monaco’s second serve, blasting several forehand winners off the Argentine’s delivery. He also threw in a few backhands down the line, some beautiful drop shots (among a couple of stinkers), and generally kept his opponent off-balance. Monaco can’t have too many complaints; he didn’t convert any of his break points, but mostly due to Isner’s timely and gargantuan serve. He will perhaps rue becoming tight at crucial moments on his own serve – when Isner was looking to pounce and unleash a forehand, Monaco failed to adapt accordingly. He kept on playing the same mono-pace game, didn’t take any risks and instead allowed Isner to take his own calculated risks.

– TN

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