Commentary

John Isner kicks it into high gear

Top-seeded American cracks 23 aces in first-round French Open win

Updated: May 26, 2014, 5:50 AM ET
By Greg Garber | ESPN.com

PARIS -- Imagine you are a 23-year-old Frenchman named Pierre-Hugues Herbert, who looks nearly 10 years younger. You received a wild card into the very first Grand Slam match of your career (thanks, French Tennis Federation) and ... they send out a 6-foot-10 guy who hits bombs.

The first serve, sometimes crackling along close to 140 mph, is tough to see, much less return. The second? It's a kicker out wide that bounces so high you have to jump nearly a foot in the air to get over the top of it.

One dazzling skill has John Isner, the proud former Georgia Bulldog, ranked as the No. 10 seed here at Roland Garros: his serve. He averages 14 aces per match, second only to Ivo Karlovic among ATP World Tour players and, even on clay, it remains formidable. He says he has seen his second serve kick as high as 10 feet.

Sunday the neophyte, buoyed by most of the heavily partisan 10,000 spectators at Court Suzanne Lenglen, fought the good fight but lost 7-6 (5), 7-6 (4), 7-5. The 2-hour, 33-minute match featured 23 aces from Isner, who won only eight more points than Herbert.

Isner, the 29-year-old who talked early this year about being more aggressive so that he could conserve energy and go deeper into tournaments, was pleased to get off in three sets. He is, after all, not only the tallest player on tour but, at 238 pounds, Isner says the heaviest.

"You guys know ... I could still be out there," Isner said about one hour after his match. "It's very crucial. When I get in these long, drawn-out matches and I'm grinding with these guys and playing four or five sets, it takes a lot bigger toll on me than it does really anybody else.

"So it was a good start."

Herbert, understandably, felt pretty good afterward, too.

"I'm rather satisfied," said Herbert, who stroked 11 aces himself. "I felt like this was an extraordinary moment. I've never been through anything like that."

If the seeds hold, Isner would find himself in the fourth round and a date with No. 6 Tomas Berdych. This is not necessarily what will happen, though. Isner still faces the prospect of Wimbledon foil Nicolas Mahut in the second and consistently reliable No. 17 seed Tommy Robredo in the third. We mention this because it has been nearly four years since an American man crossed over into the second week at Roland Garros; Robby Ginepri -- who plays No. 1 seed Rafael Nadal on Monday -- reached the round of 16 in 2010.

Querrey starts well

Only 3½ years ago, Sam Querrey was the ATP's No. 17-ranked player, but today he finds himself No. 65.

"I think I'm a really good 65 in the world," he cracked after beating Filippo Volandri 7-6 (3), 6-4, 6-3. "Every match you win, you get a little more confidence. Couldn't hit my serve any better."

Lately, the 26-year-old Querrey said, when he has faced big moments, he couldn't hit his serves and forehands with enough conviction. Against Volandri, he did.

And now he has a rare two days off during a Slam.

"Not everyone likes to play on Sundays," Querrey said. "If you do lose, you feel like you're out the tournament before it even starts. But it's nice to win on Sunday, too, and have a couple days off."

A different take

Roger Federer has always maintained a professional relationship with Novak Djokovic, but he doesn't love and respect his Serbian colleague to the degree that he does, say, Rafael Nadal. After his first-round victory over Lukas Lacko, Federer seemed to be chiding the media -- and perhaps Djokovic himself -- after the headlines surrounding Djokovic's wrist injury that caused him to miss the tournament in Madrid.

When a reporter suggested that Djokovic, on the strength of his victory over Nadal in the recent Rome final, was the favorite here, Federer started shaking his head.

"Not for me, but maybe for you," Federer answered. "And three weeks ago he couldn't play tennis anymore. I remember that, too. When he was injured, oh, my God, you know. Things are looking so terrible. Now everything is great.

"Yeah, it doesn't go week by week, you know. I don't know who's talking all the time, but Rafa is the favorite, and then Novak, and then the rest. It's very clear. We will see in a few weeks. Really doesn't matter one bit."

Etcetera

There were two dramatic comebacks Sunday as No. 15 seed Mikhail Youzhny and Radek Stepanek both rallied from two-set deficits to defeat Pablo Carreno Busta and Facundo Arguello, respectively. That's a difference of roughly $25,000 between the $57,000 you get for winning a first-round match and the $32,000-plus you get for merely appearing in the main draw. ... The top seeds advanced more easily: No. 3 Agnieszka Radwanska defeated Zhang Shuai 6-3, 6-0; No. 8 Milos Raonic handled Nick Kyrgios, the youngest man in event at 19, by a score of 6-3, 7-6 (1); No. 6 Tomas Berdych beat Peter Polansky 6-3, 6-4, 6-4; No. 8 Angelique Kerber defeated Katarzyna Piter 6-3, 6-1; No. 13 Jo-Wilfried Tsonga took down fellow Frenchman Edouard Roger-Vasselin 7-6 (4), 7-5, 6-2 and No. 20 seed Alexandr Dolgopolov won over Albert Ramos 7-6 (4), 6-4, 6-1. Grace Min, a 20-year-old American, had an early break on Spain's Garbine Muguruza Blanco but wound up losing her first-round match 7-5, 7-6 (6).

Greg Garber

Writer, Reporter
Greg Garber joined ESPN in 1991 and provides reports for NFL Countdown and SportsCenter. He is also a regular contributor to Outside the Lines and a senior writer for ESPN.com.

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