John Isner hits against Ryan Harrison during the finals of the BB&T Atlanta Open tennis tournament Sunday, July 29, 2018, in Atlanta.
Photo: AP Photo/John Amis
Photo: AP Photo/John Amis

Isner fights first-set fatigue to win fifth Atlanta Open title

It wasn’t your typical John Isner victory at the BB&T Atlanta Open but it was a victory nonetheless.

This is becoming commonplace.

After dropping the opening set, top-seeded Isner battled back to defeat eighth-seeded Ryan Harrison, 5-7, 6-3, 6-4, to defend his title and capture his fifth BB&T title in nine appearances. The five titles have come in the past six years, the lone blemish a 2016 championship match loss to Nick Kyrgios.

Isner can now count himself with Jimmy Connors, John McEnroe, Andre Agassi and Pete Sampras as the only Americans to win an ATP Tour event five times or more.

“I realize I was fortunate today, but that’s how tennis goes,” Isner said. “It’s a weird game.” 

Must be the home-court advantage for Isner, who played collegiately at the University of Georgia.

Isner won his 14th ATP Tour title and second this year after winning the Miami Open in April.

Unlike the 2017 championship match, where Isner downed fellow American Harrison 7-6, 7-6, the runner-up showed he was able to return Isner’s serves and push the champion. 

Routine holds kept the two even until Harrison broke Isner to go up 6-5 in the first set. Harrison easily held serve in the next game, frustrating his opponent and quieting the crowd as he clinched the opener. 
But the momentum swung in Isner’s favor as the sun shifted and gifted the players some shade. After dominating the first game of the second set, Isner attacked multiple times with inside-out forehands and broke Harrison to go up 4-2. An ace on set point sealed the 6-3 win and forced a third set. 

“I was fortunate to survive that second set,” Isner said. “Ryan was the fitter player out there. He was playing much better than me as well.” 

Isner shook off the fatigue that plagued him in earlier games to dominate the third set, breaking Harrison in his first game to set the tone for the rest of the match. Both held for the remainder of their service games, but Isner was clearly in control. He fired cross-court shots to force Harrison to sprint in all directions and used his trademark serve to seal the win. 

The latest championship improves Isner’s record in Atlanta to 31-4.

The 2019 tournament isn’t on Isner’s mind just yet. Rest assured, he plans to make a 10th appearance and try to defend his title. 

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