Commentary

Five-set magic runs out for John Isner

Updated: January 20, 2012, 5:31 PM ET
By Ravi Ubha | ESPN.com

MELBOURNE, Australia -- John Isner likes to keep us in suspense.

Two days after edging David Nalbandian in a near-five-hour thriller, he went five more sets against Feliciano Lopez.

But this time the final result was different, and it leaves no American men in the fourth round of the Australian Open for the first time in the Open era.

"I knew going in today I was the last one left, and I wanted to keep on going, but just didn't happen," Isner said. "It's very ugly, to be honest, to have no one in the round of 16. We've got to try to rectify that next time the big tournaments roll around."

Here are five other things we learned.

1. Paying the price

Lopez had a pretty good idea of how Isner was feeling during their encounter.

He was on the money when he addressed the crowd on Hisense Arena after downing his 16th-seeded opponent 6-3, 6-7 (3), 6-4, 6-7 (0), 6-1.

Referring to Isner and his battle with Nalbandian, Lopez said, "The day after you feel tired, it's tough to recover for the next [match]."

Tough indeed.

Isner had a nasty blister on his toe that bled through his sock and other toe issues, said his coach, Craig Boynton. He was fortunate to get to five sets, since Lopez failed to serve out the second.

"The whole match I wasn't really that sharp, and I wasn't, I don't know, I just didn't really have it out there today," said Isner, who hit 43 aces against Nalbandian but only 30 against Lopez.

"John ran out of gas in the fifth set," Boynton added.

It wasn't the first time that playing a long match at a Grand Slam, like Isner did Wednesday, has adversely affected the North Carolina native in his ensuing encounter. As historic as it was, Isner's inability to break Nicolas Mahut at Wimbledon 2010 earlier than he finally did prolonged the affair. He was predictably crushed in the next round.

Boynton acknowledged that his charge needs to find a way to shorten matches.

"I think what John needs to do to improve is to tighten it up, make every point count, make every service game count, be locked in for every game and point," Boynton said. "And if he does that, by nature, I think things will shorten up that way."

Although not as devastating as last year's 9-7 fifth-set loss to Marin Cilic at the Australian Open, Isner departs Melbourne with a bitter taste. For someone who wants to crash the top 10 this year, a third-round showing -- especially after reaching a maiden Grand Slam quarterfinal in New York -- wasn't good enough.

Americans went 0-for-2 on Friday after Christina McHale was routed by former world No. 1 Jelena Jankovic 6-2, 6-0.

McHale didn't make any excuses, saying she wasn't nervous when her match was switched to Rod Laver Arena.

She called Jankovic "a much better version" of herself.

"When you play a top player, and you don't keep it close at the beginning, it's easy for them to run away," the 19-year-old from New Jersey said.

2. Vika unfazed

Victoria Azarenka has curbed her temper quite a bit.

How much progress has she made? The old Vika might have told fans where to go after they mimicked her grunting in a first-round duel against Aussie Casey Dellacqua. Instead, she ignored them.

"Of course I hear it," said Azarenka, the third seed, in a news conference after dispatching a surging Mona Barthel 6-2, 6-4. "But it's fine for me. I respect the crowd, whatever they do. I try to be focused on my game, and that's it."

Azarenka's coach, Sam Sumyk, wasn't bothered, either.

"All the players, Vika included, are entertainers in sport," Sumyk said in an interview. "If Vika, with her grunting, entertains the crowd at 11:30 p.m., hey, that's part of her job, no?"

3. Caro movin' on up

Top seed Caroline Wozniacki, despite a wonky wrist, breezed into the fourth round with a 6-2, 6-2 win against the quirky Monica Niculescu.

Wozniacki made a concerted effort to move forward, approaching the net 25 times.

Was that because of the wrist (an effort to end points quicker) or because she wants to improve that aspect of her game? Maybe both. Even though she won only 15 of those points, it's a positive development.

"I've worked quite a bit on my volleys," Wozniacki said. "I still think I could have finished up a few more points up there, but I'm improving and I'm trying to move in when I can sometimes."

Wozniacki is in the midst of changing her two-handed backhand volley to a more orthodox one-hander.

4. He was trying to be funny

Poor Ivo Karlovic.

He lost 7-6 (6), 7-5, 6-3 to Roger Federer -- unable to take advantage of a set point on serve in the tiebreaker -- and then his postmatch attempt at a little levity failed miserably.

Q: What was the difference between you winning and losing? Can you sum up the game?

A: He won the match point. That's a joke. Nobody is laughing. All right. I don't know. I don't know. I would know if I would have won, but I didn't know. That's one more joke.

Karlovic slipped to 1-10 against Federer, no laughing matter.

5. No early exit for Nico

[+] EnlargeNicolas Almagro
Ryan Pierse/Getty ImagesNicolas Almagro showed us, eh? Now he has a chance to reach his first non-dirt Grand Slam quarterfinal.

Of the players in the top 10, Nicolas Almagro wasn't expected to go the deepest. Rather, he was likely forecast to be one of the first to exit. Six so-called experts at ESPN.com, for instance -- more than half -- picked him to depart the earliest.

The Spaniard is still around.

Could it be that Almagro, who drew praise from Federer years ago, is making an effort at the age of 26 to play on surfaces other than clay?

Time will tell. But there's no doubt that the Australian Open is his favorite Grand Slam -- outside Roland Garros.

Almagro's 7-6 (2), 6-2, 6-4 win against Stanislas Wawrinka moved him into the fourth round in Melbourne for the third straight season. But he'll have to beat Tomas Berdych to reach his maiden major quarterfinal outside of Paris.

London-based Ravi Ubha covers soccer and tennis for ESPN.com. You can follow him on Twitter.

London-based Ravi Ubha covers soccer and tennis for ESPN.com.