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NEW YORK -- John Isner heard US Open fans surprisingly supporting his French opponent, Gael Monfils. Isner, the highest-ranked American man, felt pain in his upper right leg. And, maybe worst of all, Isner saw his lead slipping away.
Overcoming it all, the 13th-seeded Isner held on to beat the 39th-ranked Monfils 7-5, 6-2, 4-6, 7-6 (4) Thursday night to reach the third round at Flushing Meadows for the fifth consecutive year.
From late in the third set, spectators at Louis Armstrong Stadium occasionally chanted "Let's go, Monfils!" or loudly sang his last name during breaks between points. They rose to their feet and raucously saluted Monfils' best shots. They applauded faults and other errors by Isner.
"It was surprising, actually," Monfils said. "It was surprising -- but it was good."
Certainly was an unusual display: plenty of vigorous cheering for a non-American while he played an American at the country's most important tennis tournament. Maybe, as Monfils guessed afterward, the ticket-holders simply wanted more bang for their buck, instead of a three-set, open-and-shut affair. Or maybe, as Isner surmised, Monfils' style just won them over.
"He's a very fun-loving guy, and he gets cheered on wherever he goes, not just in France. He's one of the most exciting tennis players in the world, hands down," Isner said. "He's been fighting a bunch of injuries, so it's good to see him back healthy."
Monfils is most decidedly a showman, one of the most gregarious and demonstrative players on tour, one who plays to the crowd and sometimes seems more interested in being an entertainer than a winner. He's been ranked as high as No. 7, and reached the semifinals at his home major, the French Open, in 2008. But he also has been slowed by injuries, and skipped Wimbledon this year.
Monfils did not disappoint Thursday, sliding into the splits while chasing some balls, holding his arms wide apart and nodding after one particularly skillful shot, and even pointing out a man in the stands who was chastised by the chair umpire for using a flash while taking photos.
"It's so much fun to share the court with him," Isner said.
The 6-foot-10 Isner, born in North Carolina and based in Florida, is hardly the most well-known or accomplished U.S. tennis player, but he is probably the host country's best chance for a deep run this year. Especially after the next-highest U.S. man, 26th-seeded Sam Querrey, lost earlier Thursday to Adrian Mannarino of France 7-6 (4), 7-6 (5), 6-7 (5), 6-4.
Now Isner will face No. 22 Philipp Kohlschreiber of Germany, the player he lost to in the third round last year.
"I'm going to get some revenge on him," said Isner, whose best showing at any Grand Slam tournament was when he was a quarterfinalist at the 2011 U.S. Open.
What he is most famous for, of course, is winning the longest match in tennis history, an 11-hour, 5-minute marathon that stretched over three days at Wimbledon three years ago before ending at 70-68 in the fifth set.
One thing Isner does rather well is win tiebreakers, thanks in large part to his booming serve, and that was how this match was decided.
Monfils was ahead 4-3 in the fourth-set tiebreaker, but Isner took the last four points. He hit a 135-mph service winner, then a 139-mph ace -- his 23rd of the match -- to make it 5-4. An inside-out forehand winner put Isner up 6-4, earning a match point, and he gestured to the fans to show him some love.
They did, screaming, "U-S-A! U-S-A!"
Isner -- whose right leg was treated by a trainer early in the fourth set -- ended it there, hitting a crisp volley that Monfils got to, but could only put into the net. Isner chucked his racket and then pantomimed the same sort of "Superman"-inspired move that Cam Newton -- the quarterback for Isner's favorite NFL team, the Carolina Panthers -- uses to celebrate touchdowns.
"I … knew that against Gael, the atmosphere was going to be electric," Isner said, "and that's what it was."
In other action, 17-time major champion Roger Federer beat Carlos Berlocq 6-3, 6-2, 6-1 in 95 minutes in the second round, where the Swiss great was shocked by Sergiy Stakhovsky at Wimbledon.
The 48th-ranked Berlocq has never made it past the second round at a Grand Slam event and is 0-17 against top-10 opponents.
|John Isner celebrates a hard-fought victory over crowd favorite Gael Monfils on Thursday night.|
"It's one of those matches I expect myself to win if possible in straight sets and gain confidence in the process," Federer said. "All those things happened, so, yeah, I'm pleased about it."
Federer is seeded seventh at Flushing Meadows, his worst since 2002. But he hasn't dropped a set through two victories.
Also making quick work in his second-round match was Rafael Nadal, who took the final 12 games in his 6-2, 6-1, 6-0 victory over qualifier Rogerio Dutra Silva.
Second-seeded Nadal improved to 17-0 on hard courts this year. He has lost 11 games in his first two matches at Flushing Meadows.
Dutra Silva made it into the main draw by winning a third-set tiebreaker in his final qualifying match. He saved seven match points and took a 12-10 fifth-set tiebreaker in the first round against Vasek Pospisil.
The Brazilian fought Nadal for a brief time and even had a break point in the second game of the second set.
But Nadal saved the break point, then closed out the first of the dozen straight games he won to close the match.
No. 4 David Ferrer overcame a shaky second-set tiebreaker to defeat fellow Spaniard Roberto Bautista Agut 6-3, 6-7 (5), 6-1, 6-2.
Ferrer, the French Open runner-up, has reached at least the quarterfinals at seven straight major tournaments.
Ferrer had 20 unforced errors in the second set, 25 in the other three combined. The 64th-ranked Bautista Agut was making his US Open debut.
Another U.S. man, 20-year-old Jack Sock, moved to the third round with a 7-6 (3), 1-6, 7-5, 6-2 win over Maximo Gonzalez of Argentina.
In doubles, the Bryan brothers opened their quest to complete the calendar Grand Slam with a 7-6 (1), 6-2 win over Federico Delbonis and Leonardo Mayer of Argentina.
Coming into last year's US Open, they hadn't captured a major championship in more than a year. Now they've won four straight.
"It's been going our way. We're thankful for that," Bob said. "We've definitely been on the other side of those tough, tough losses."
That made them the first men's doubles team to hold all four major titles at the same time in the Open era, which started in 1968, and now they're chasing the calendar year Grand Slam.
The 35-year-old brothers didn't face a break point Thursday in advancing to face Eric Butorac and Frederik Nielsen.
Bob listed some of the close calls of the past year. Two matches that went the full three sets at the Australian Open. Trailing 4-2 in the third-set tiebreaker in the French final. A five-set match in the Wimbledon semis and dropping the first set of the final there.
"We could easily have zero Slams out of the last four," he said.
Mike suspects it's not a total coincidence the streak began after they won their first Olympic gold medals at the London Games. They had felt the pressure to fill that one void in their careers and rode the relief of that victory.
In other doubles action, James Blake lost in the last match of his tennis career.
The American announced Monday that the US Open would be his final tournament. He was eliminated in singles in the first round just past midnight Thursday morning, falling in a fifth-set tiebreaker to Ivo Karlovic.
About nine hours later, Blake and Sock lost 4-6, 6-2, 6-2 in the opening round in doubles to second-seeded Bruno Soares and Alexander Peya.
Blake and Sock got in on a wild card.
Blake had been ranked as high as No. 4 in the world in his career and reached three Grand Slam quarterfinals.
Sock will next next face 18th-seeded Janko Tipsarevic in singles.
Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.