NEWPORT, R.I. (AP) — John Isner lumbered toward the net and didn’t get to see his match-ending forehand winner down the line as he fell forward onto the extremely hot grass court.
The top seed used his blistering serve and a good passing shot after his opponent’s unconventional serve on match point to overcome the scorching conditions and win the title for the fourth time in Newport, beating No. 7 seed Alexander Bublik 7-6 (2), 6-3 on Sunday at the Hall of Fame Open.
“I had a feeling he was going to go to the underarm serve, and I was ready for it,” the 6-foot-10 Isner said, breaking into a smile. “I actually didn’t see the ball land in because my face was on the ground. I had a feeling I hit it pretty well, and then I heard the crowd start cheering.”
Facing a creative opponent who mixed in numerous underhanded serves, with cuts and slices throughout the match, the 34-year-old American captured his 15th ATP title overall.
He also won at Newport in 2017, ‘12 and ‘11, making him the only four-time winner of the event.
“He’s an interesting guy for sure and has his own way of playing tennis,” Isner said. “I said he’s a bit quirky but mean that in a good way.”
The 22-year-old Bublik, from Kazakhstan, played in his first ATP final.
The match started in blazing sunshine with a temperature of 85 degrees and a feel-like temperature of 95. It lasted 1 hour, 15 minutes.
“Two sets in that stuff is still very difficult,” said Isner, who entered the week ranked 15th in the world. “I’m still glad it didn’t go three.”
Down 6-5 after he was broken for just the second time all week, Isner broke back, sending the first set to a tiebreaker.
“If you break, you’ve got to hold,” Bublik said of facing Isner’s hard serve. “If you don’t hold it, you’re over.”
Isner knew that was a key stretch.
“That was the turning point, no doubt — to break right back and connect on a few returns,” he said. “It was huge. Gave me the momentum and helped me physically.”
Isner was sidelined from April through June after breaking his left foot in the second set of the Miami final, where he lost to Roger Federer.
Bublik also faked an overhead smash at the net and hit a soft drop-shot winner that closed the second set’s seventh game. It had both players laughing as they walked to their chairs for the changeover.
“That was funny,” Bublik said. “I was like: ‘I’m not going to do anything, just a fake overhead.’ That was funny.”