(Photo credit: Marianne Bevis)
In an all-American final, four-time champion John Isner, who was educated nearby at the University of Georgia, takes on Ryan Harrison in a repeat of the title-match last year. Isner has long played his best tennis on American soil, but has had a generally excellent season across the Tour, winning the Miami Open and reaching the Wimbledon semifinals. But Harrison, who won his first title last year in Memphis, has proven himself a dangerous opponent more than once. Who will lift the title?
This will be the 11th meeting between Isner and Harrison and it is Isner who has had the better of things, leading the head-to-head 7-3. Isner has won all five of their matches away from hard courts, but on hard courts it is Harrison who has the advantage, with victories in Sydney in 2013, Toronto in 2016 and Acapulco earlier this year. However, in Atlanta last year it was Isner who got the win, edging Harrison 7-6 7-6 to claim the title.
Path to the final
Isner, the top seed, received a first round bye and thus began his campaign against the talented Australian teenager Alex De Minaur, overpowering him to win 6-3 6-2. He then finished strongly to oust Germany’s Mischa Zverev 7-5 4-6 7-5 in the quarterfinals, a good win against a player who had given him problems in the past. That set up a semifinal clash with Matthew Ebden, and it was a similar story as Isner pulled away in the decider to win 6-4 6-7 6-1.
Harrison, the eighth seed, has had to battle hard to reach the final, with all four of his matches going the distance. He began by rallying from a set down to best James Duckworth in the first round, winning 4-6 7-6 6-1 before defeating Lukas Lacko 2-6 6-2 6-3. He dropped the opening set again against Hyeon Chung, the third seed, in the quarterfinals, but again came back to win 6-7 6-2 7-6. In the semifinals he made it the complete set of comebacks by beating Cameron Norrie 2-6 6-3 6-2.
How do they match up?
Both players have plenty of attacking firepower and it would be fair to assume that extended rallies will be in fairly short supply. The 6’10 Isner has an unsurprisingly massive serve, at Wimbledon he hit 214 aces, and that hammer blow is backed up by a powerful forehand. The big man can be exposed defensively, he is far from the most mobile of players, and his backhand is a weakness when he is forced to hit up on the ball.
The challenge for Harrison will be to expose these weaknesses whilst withstanding the considerable artillery Isner can throw at him. Harrison is a fairly accomplished mover, however, and defends better off his backhand than many of his compatriots. Offensively he possesses many of the same attributes as Isner, namely a big serve and a big forehand, although Harrison tends to put more spin on the ball than Isner, who generally hits it flat.
By hook or by crook Isner finds a way to win in Atlanta and there is little reason to suspect he won’t do so again against Harrison. Indeed, the Louisianan has struggled with inconsistency and slow starts all week, and against Isner that is sure to be punished. He has also shown impressive battling qualities to rally from a set down in four straight matches, so don’t expect him to roll over and hand Isner the title. But expect the top seed to get it done in three nonetheless.