Bulldog Isner, Federer to face off
August 30, 2007
NEW YORK ” He’s a Georgia Bulldog all the way, backed by barks each time he plays.
To beat the biggest dog of them all at the U.S. Open, though, John Isner freely admits he needs to play way, way over his head. And this is a guy who’s 6-foot-9.
Because after winning Wednesday night, next up is Roger Federer. He was always Isner’s favorite, the only player he enjoyed watching on television.
“I don’t know if it’s going to help me out. I don’t know if anything’s going to help me out,” Isner said. “I’m going to believe. I’m not saying I’m going to win, but I’m going to believe.”
While the Williams sisters, Rafael Nadal and Justine Henin advanced as expected, Isner gave himself a chance to play the world’s No. 1 player at Arthur Ashe Stadium. Following his first-round upset of No. 26 Jarkko Nieminen, Isner beat Rik de Voest of South Africa 6-3, 6-3, 7-6 (4).
“Look, he’s new,” Federer said. “New kid on the block.”
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Maria Sharapova, Andy Roddick and James Blake were among the top players scheduled to play Thursday.
A few months ago, Isner finished his senior year by leading Georgia to the NCAA team title. He proudly wears his school hat, the one with the giant G, every chance he gets.
Isner got his fans woofing with rocket serves. The father of one of his best friends tried something else.
“He came up today and did this Bulldog bark. He growls and barks. He did that a couple times tonight, got the crowd going,” Isner said. “Pretty neat.”
Now, Isner gets to face the player he called “the most dominant athlete in the world, any sport.”
“I guess going into the U.S. Open, I’m thinking I might draw him first round. I never would have imagined playing him in the third round of the U.S. Open,” he said.
Federer, as usual, made it look easy. Trying for his fourth straight U.S. Open title, he dismantled Paul Capdeville 6-1, 6-4, 6-4.
Rather than his lucky blue, Federer came dressed out in all-black ” bandanna, shirt, socks and shiny shoes. Even his shorts had satin stripes down the sides, tuxedo-style.
“We had the idea of maybe doing something blue at the day, black at the night. I really liked the idea. I thought it really looks cool,” he said. “In New York, you can do such a thing. Nowhere else in the world.”
For the third straight day, the favorites kept winning. Easily, for the most part.
The main exception was Nadal.
His knee was taped up, the pain was so bad he nearly pulled out of the tournament. He lost the first six points of the match, then the three-time French Open winner hit his stride and beat Australian wild-card entry Alun Jones 7-5, 3-6, 6-4, 6-1 in the first round.
“I didn’t run too much, no? I can’t move too much,” the No. 2-seeded Nadal said. “Difficult to play like this, especially here.”
Nadal felt a “sharp pain” in his left knee Sunday during a practice session. He had an MRI exam and got treatment the next two days from a doctor with the Italian tennis federation known for laser treatments.
Hobbled by injuries over the years, the Williams sisters did fine.
Venus Williams overcame six double-faults and 20 total unforced errors for a 6-4, 6-2 victory against Ioana Raluca Olaru of Romania.
A few more wins and maybe the U.S. Open will become her pet tournament. Shortly after her second-round win, Williams walked toward the locker room carrying a big purse.
It was a doggie bag ” for real.
Because inside was Harold, a 5-month-old Havanese she got following her win at Wimbledon. When Williams loosened a side flap, the pooch’s head popped out, startling some people standing near her.
“He’s so cute,” she cooed.
Williams is a two-time winner at Flushing Meadows and a four-time champ at Wimbledon. She definitely feels a different vibe when she comes to New York.
“I think the U.S. Open is really, really intense. That’s just the take I get on it,” she said. “Just the city, just all the people. The stadium’s huge.”
Serena Williams, also a two-time champ here, moved into the third round by beating Maria Elena Camerin of Italy 7-5, 6-2.
Williams let loose a few piercing shouts ” some excited, others exasperated ” during the win.
“I feel a lot better than I did in my first match,” she said. “I love playing under the lights. Sometimes it gets confusing with the high lobs.”
Serena occasionally grimaced, rolled her eyes or tapped her racket after missed shots.
“She likes to be an actress,” Camerin said.
Williams also kept focused, occasionally checking handwritten notes in a pink notebook during changeovers. On one page, the header read: “U.S. Open.”
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