By International Tennis Hall Of Fame/Hall Of Fame Open
John Isner wasn’t entirely sure the shot went in, but he had a pretty good feeling that he had just won the Hall of Fame Open for a record fourth time.
“I actually didn’t see the ball land in, because my face was on the ground, but I had a feeling I hit it pretty well,” he said, “and then I heard the crowd start cheering, so I was very happy to win that 6-3 and not have to serve it out at 5-4.”
The final point in his 7-6 (2), 6-3 win over Alexander Bublik of Kazakhstan was a lunging forehand that left Isner face down near the net. Bublik, as he had done several times throughout the match, tapped in an underhand serve to try and catch Isner off guard. This time, Isner returned it, and after a brief rally, he curled a forehand winner around Bublik and just inside the sideline.
“That final point, I had a feeling he was going to go to the underarm serve, and I was ready for it,” Isner said.
Isner, the Hall of Fame Open champion in 2011, 2012, 2017 and now 2019, broke a tie with Greg Rusedski and Vijay Amritraj, for the most Newport titles. Isner has a match record of 23-5 in Newport in his nine appearances at the event.
“It’s crazy. I remember when I first played here in 2007, my very first ATP tournament, I didn’t enjoy the courts that much, because I didn’t know how to play on these courts,” Isner said, referring to his first-round loss to Dick Norman. “I wasn’t serving and volleying, I just wasn’t doing the right stuff, in my opinion, and to sit here now, to be able to say I’ve won this tournament four times is something I never thought would be possible.”
The title is Isner’s 15th on the ATP Tour, while Bublik, 22, was playing in his first final.
“It’s my first final, of course I’m going to remember this day forever,” Bublik said. “Playing John … he’s a great player, old generation, so he taught me a little bit how to play in the important moments.”
Bublik’s style of play, which Isner described as “quirky,” sometimes doesn’t go over well with fans. Some booed him this week when he would try an underhand serve. He’s also perfectly comfortable hitting shots between his legs or doing other things some might consider showboating.
Bublik, however, makes no apologies for the way he plays.
“Guys chanting boos, they don’t understand what’s happening. Who cares?” he said. “We’re just entertaining the crowd, we played a great final.”
Other players may have issues with how Bublik plays, but Isner is not one of them.
“He’s an interesting guy for sure and he has his own way of playing tennis. He’s certainly a bit quirky, but I mean that in a good way,” Isner said. “I personally don’t think it’s a great tactic, but there’s nothing wrong with it at all. It’s completely within the rules, but I don’t think it’s a high-percentage play.”
A high-percentage play for Isner is his serve, but he only had five aces on Sunday, the fewest he had all week. He still only faced two break points, saving one of them. After losing his serve in the 11th game of the first set, he broke back to force a tiebreaker.
“You can’t guess his serve,” Bublik said. “Once you break, you’ve got to hold and you understand if you don’t hold, it’s over. That’s tough.”
This was Isner’s second tournament back after breaking his foot in Miami in March. He admitted earlier in the week his fitness level was not where it needs to be, but said on Sunday that he was not surprised he won the tournament.
“I’ve won this tournament three times before, I’m very comfortable here and I know that if I play the right way on this surface, I can be very, very tough to beat,” he said. “I think I proved that this year, and I proved that three other times as well.”