It will be a showdown between Saddlebrook (Tampa, Fla.) training mates and occasional doubles partners when Alexander Zverev and John Isner battle for a place in the final of the Internazionali BNL d’Italia on Saturday afternoon.
Zverev leads the head-to-head series 2-0, having prevailed 6-4, 6-2 last fall in Shanghai and 6-7(5), 7-6(5), 7-6(5) at the Miami Masters. In the latter contest, the fast-rising German saved three match points before surviving a two-hour and 38-minute thriller.
Isner had to get through another deciding tiebreaker in order to give himself one more shot at Zverev. Following victories this week over Albert Ramos-Vinolas, Florian Mayer, and Stan Wawrinka, the 6’10” American outlasted Marin Cilic 7-6(3), 2-6, 7-6(2) on Friday. This run has come mostly out of nowhere for Isner, who had been a modest 9-8 in 2017 prior to Rome and had not played since mid-April in Houston (lost to Ernesto Escobedo in the third round).
“It doesn’t matter what the surface; I feel I can play well on all surfaces,” Isner said. “Nothing changes for me. Whether I’m playing on grass, hard, or clay, it’s the same recipe. I’m going to serve and hold my serve a lot. I can hold my serve in mud out there, really. So I like my serve no matter the surface. It just so happens to be that this week I’m sort of putting it together. Clay can be a great surface for me.”
It has been Zverev’s best surface this season. The 20-year-old is a stellar 24-9 overall and an especially outstanding 13-3 on clay, with a title in Munich and a quarterfinal showing in Madrid in addition to this Rome performance. Zverev punched his ticket to the last four by beating Kevin Anderson, Viktor Troicki, Fabio Fognini, and Milos Raonic, surrendering just a single set to Anderson in the process.
“Against Sascha, it’s an extremely tough match,” Isner assured. “I actually know him very well, since he was very young. I train with him a bunch and I played him two times–and I’m 0-2. I would certainly love to get some revenge on him. But he’s playing remarkably well. It was only a matter of time, in my opinion, before he started having results like this.”
“I’m happy to be in the semis and playing John, who I know very well from our Saddlebrook days,” Zverev added. “We practice quite a lot together in the offseason and do quite a lot of stuff together. It’s going to be a great match. I’m excited for both of us.”
The world No. 17 should be excited, because–now that Rafael Nadal is out–he has been arguably been the best player in the field during this tournament along with Dominic Thiem. He also warmed up perfectly for this matchup by facing Raonic, whom he broke an impressive four times. Isner will be tougher, but Zverev should be able to get enough returns in play to pick up a third win in their head-to-head history.
Pick: Zverev in 3