Hometown hero John Isner will face French qualifier Julien Benneteau in the final of the ATP Winston-Salem Open after each captured dramatic semi-final triumphs on Friday.
With monster Hurricane Irene bearing down on the North Carolina coast about 500km to the east, it was anything but tennis as usual in a city known for tobacco.
Isner upset top seed and fellow American Andy Roddick 7-6 (9/7), 6-4, while world No. 113 Benneteau outlasted Dutch 10th-seed Robin Haase 3-6, 7-6 (9/7), 7-6 (8/6).
While the 29-year-old Frenchman hopes to end a run of four career losses in finals, Isner bids for a third career title after winning on grass the week after Wimbledon at Newport and playing the final in Atlanta later last month.
“It has been a tough week with lots of matches, but I’ve fought through it well,” Benneteau said. “I’m so happy to be in a final again. I hope to finally be able to win one.”
Though Isner won the first set, Roddick took a 3-1 lead in the second before the local pegged him back for the victory with 34 winners and half as many unforced errors.
His ace count was a modest eight on the day compared with 10 for Roddick, the 2003 US Open winner whose singles crown eight years ago was the last at a Grand Slam event by an American man.
Isner admitted that a brief change in the hot weather helped his cause.
“The sun was the difference — really,” said the world No. 28. “It went behind the clouds in the second set. I felt a cool breeze and got some energy back. I had been struggling a bit after the long first set. I wanted to keep the points short. You can’t win a 10 or 15-shot rally with Andy. He’s just too good. I started to play offensively.”
Isner added that he was aided by his ability to conserve energy.
“I’m somehow able to spend it at the right time,” he said. “It just comes naturally.”
Roddick was playing his fourth semi-final of the season, but is out of the top 20, on 21st, for the first time in a decade. His lone title came at Memphis in February.
Isner improved to 16-4 in his past six events as he played a fourth semi-final from six tournaments.
Benneteau denied Haase the chance at a second title in as many tournament after the Dutchman, ranked a career-high 42nd, won Kitzbuehel on clay earlier this month.
Haase served for victory in the third set, but was broken, with Benneteau keeping up the fight that he has shown all week as he ended an eight-match win streak over his rival.
The winner fired 11 aces and broke three times in two-and-a-half hours, denying Haase on two break points in the tiebreaker.
“I didn’t even think of the two match points I saved at 6-5 down in the tiebreaker,” Benneteau said.