John Is­ner ral­lies to reach At­lanta Open fi­nal


Two- t i me de­fend­ing cham­pion John Is­ner ral­lied to reach his 19th ATP Tour fi­nal and fifth in the At­lanta Open, beat­ing friend and qual­i­fier De­nis Kudla 4-6, 6-2, 7-5 on Satur­day.

The top-seeded for­mer Univer­sity of Ge­or­gia star locked in his serve against his Tampa, Florida, neigh­bor, shut­ting out his fre­quent prac­tice part­ner by win­ning all 16 of his ser­vice points in the sec­ond set. Is­ner then took 24 points off 30 serves in the third.

“I was hit­ting them big­ger, which is a good sign,” Is­ner said af­ter mov­ing his At­lanta record to 19-3 with his 11th con­sec­u­tive win at At­lantic Sta­tion. “I got stronger and stronger as that match went on. I was feel­ing not so great in the first set, winded.”

Af­ter drop­ping 25 aces on Kudla to push his tour­na­ment-lead­ing to­tal to 77 in three matches, the top seed will seek his 10th ATP ti­tle against a player who ap­pears suited to give him trou­ble.

In the night semi­fi­nal, fifth-seeded Mar­cos Baghdi­tis of Cyprus beat the tour­na­ment’s other big server, sev­enth-seeded Gilles Muller of Lux­em­borg, 6-7 (4), 6-3, 7-6 (4) on the strength of his re­turn game.

The sev­enth-seeded Muller en­tered Satur­day as the only At­lanta player yet to lose serve, and trails only Is­ner in aces (77-52).

He won his first 32 ser­vice games in the tour­na­ment, in­clud­ing six in the first set.

Then, Bagh­datis be­gan to fig­ure out the big-serv­ing left-han­der, break­ing Muller once in the sec­ond set, and twice in the third to reach his 12th ATP fi­nal in search of his fifth ti­tle.

Af­ter scor­ing on just one of Muller’s 23 first serves in the first set, Bagh­datis scored on 9 of 26 of Muller’s serves in the sec­ond set and on 20 of 47 in the third.

“I think (Muller) lost his rhythm, and I started mess­ing up his tar­gets,” Bagh­datis said.

Although 0-5 against Is­ner, all on hard courts like At­lanta’s, the col­or­ful Cypriot said with a chuckle that Sun­day’s key, “I think will be about mess­ing up (Is­ner’s) game, and tak­ing his eyes off the ball.”

The for­mer world No. 8 (Au­gust, 2008) who fell in his past seven ATP semi­fi­nals, bent down af­ter his win and kissed the court. He did the same Fri­day af­ter beat­ing sec­ond­seed Vasek Pospisil in straight sets.

“Bagh­datis will be dif­fer­ent,” Is- ner said. “He re­turns very well.”

Is­ner played the last two sets dif­fer­ently than the first, un­leash­ing his great­est weapon and rip­ping sev­eral serves at 140 and 141 mph.

Af­ter win­ning a rock-steady first set, the 22-year-old Kudla — who warmed Is­ner up at Wim­ble­don in 2010 be­fore Is­ner played the long­est match in history, an 11-hour, 5-minute win over Ni­co­las Mahut — made all the key mis­takes in his first ATP semi­fi­nal (to Is­ner’s 39th).

Kudla was on a 17-2 streak into the match, along the way be­com­ing the first Amer­i­can male since 2012 to reach the round of 16 at Wim­ble­don.

But Is­ner broke serve twice in the sec­ond set, each time win­ning as Kudla sent easy fore­hands from the base­line into the net to cede Is­ner a lead of 3-1 and then the set.

The only break of the fi­nal set came on another Kudla fore­hand mis­take, when he sent one wide to end the match.

“He stayed a lit­tle more dis­ci­plined than he would in some prac­tice mo­ments,” Kudla said of Is­ner. “He started flat­ten­ing out his serve. In the be­gin­ning, he was try­ing to pick his spots and I could get a racket on it. When he gets up to­ward 140, that’s when it gets tough.”

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