Atlanta SF previews and picks: Isner vs. Hewitt, Anderson vs. Harrison

A marquee semifinal between John Isner and Lleyton Hewitt is set for Saturday in Atlanta. Kevin Anderson and Ryan Harrison are also one win away from the title match.

(1) John Isner vs. (7) Lleyton Hewitt

Isner and Hewitt will be squaring off for the sixth time in their careers and for the third time this season when they clash in the semifinals of the BB&T Atlanta Open on Saturday. Hewitt leads the head-to-head series 4-1, including 2-0 on hard courts. The 32-year-old Aussie has won both of their 2013 encounters; 6-7(6), 6-3, 6-4 at the Indian Wells Masters and 5-7, 6-2, 6-4 two weeks ago on the grass courts of Newport. Isner’s lone victory in the series came in the 2012 Newport title via a 7-6(1), 6-4 decision.

Neither man has been at his very best in 2013, in part due to physical problems, but they are both rounding into form for the summer lead-up to the U.S. Open. Hewitt reached the semis at Queen’s Club, finished runner-up to Nicolas Mahut in Newport, and so far in Atlanta he has dismissed Edouard Roger-Vasselin, Rhyne, Williams, and Ivan Dodig. Isner, now a four-time semifinalist at this event and already a two-time runner-up, booked his spot in the last four with hard-fought wins over countrymen Christian Harrison and James Blake. The world No. 22, who was just 16-15 this year prior to Newport, has won five of his last six matches.

This is a classic battle of contrasting styles–Isner’s serve and forehand against Hewitt’s return and defense. The matchup is clearly not a great one for Isner, as the evidence shows, but he moves better on hard courts than grass and hits more balls in his strike zone on this surface. Conditions are better for the big man in Atlanta than they are in Indian Wells, for example, and this is his favorite time of the year. Still, the former UGA Bulldog will need a big day on serve to negate Hewitt’s baseline consistency.

Pick: Isner in 3

Ryan Harrison vs. (2) Kevin Anderson

Harrison and Anderson will be facing each other for the first time in their careers on Saturday evening. It has already been an outstanding week for the elder Harrison brother, who is back in the Atlanta semifinals for the second time in three appearances. The 21-year-old American, who had lost three matches in a row to see his 2013 record plunge to 6-15 prior to this tournament, earned his place in the semis by defeating Marinko Matosevic, Igor Sijsling, and Santiago Giraldo all in three sets.

Anderson also needed three sets on Friday, battling through a high-quality tilt against Denis Istomin 6-3, 3-6, 6-3. The 6’7” South African preceded that with a 6-7(7), 6-2, 6-2 comeback victory over Matthew Ebden. Anderson is an awesome 31-13 for the season and he is up to a career-high ranking of 21st in the world. Harrison loves Atlanta (he started out 9-0 as a professional in the city, Australian Open wild card playoffs included) and he always plays his best on American hard courts, but Anderson’s firepower is in a different class. Unless the No. 2 seed is way off his game, which has rarely been the case in 2013 except when he plays Tomas Berdych, Harrison may be outmatched.

Pick: Anderson in 2

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