NEWPORT — It might not be the all-American semifinal you expected here at the Infosys Hall of Fame Open.
Alex Michelsen and John Isner threw the draw into a bit of chaos on Friday afternoon. One player at the outset of his career and another far closer to the end dug deep to upset seeded opponents at the Newport Casino.
Michelsen played his cleanest match of the week in dispatching No. 4 seed Mackenzie McDonald, 6-3, 6-3. Isner worked overtime to eliminate No. 1 seed Tommy Paul, posting his best victory of the calendar year in a 4-6, 6-3, 7-6 (4) thriller.
“An American is going to make the final, that's for sure,” Michelsen said. “That’s always good. It’s good for American tennis.”
“I think he’s got a great future ahead of him — a much longer career ahead of him at this stage than me,” Isner said. “But it will be a fun match for sure. A battle of generations.”
Michelsen captured three-setters against defending champion Maxime Cressy and James Duckworth earlier in the week but this was a much sharper performance. He won more than 80% of points on his first serve and exactly half of his return points against McDonald, who simply couldn’t keep pace. Michelsen faced a break point at 4-3 in the second set and was able to hold, setting up a quick finish.
“Those are pretty good numbers,” Michelsen said. “I didn’t know those were my numbers — I'll definitely take them. I played really well today.”
Michelsen pointed to his movement as the key to the result. The 18-year-old applied some of the early lessons taught to him by his mother, Sondra, a former standout player at San Diego State. Michelsen’s hot run through the last five months — first career Tour semifinal this week, Challenger win last week at Chicago, Challenger final in suburban Atlanta, Challenger semifinal in Texas — has him considering passing up his college commitment to Georgia and turning professional.
“My mom was always telling me when I was younger — because I used to have bad footwork — ‘Take little steps,’” Michelsen said. “I was like, ‘OK, fine.’ And it seems like it’s working out pretty well.”
Isner is a four-time champion here who seems revitalized on the grounds this week. The 38-year-old entered on a seven-match losing streak — the last six in the first round of each tournament he entered since late February. He smacked 20 aces and played some solid points at the baseline down the stretch to hold off Paul, who’s currently one of three Americans in the top 15 of the rankings.
“Winning three matches in a row is pretty big for me,” Isner said. “Especially with the quality of opponent I beat today, I’ve got to say I’m pretty proud of myself.”
Paul cashed in his sixth set point in the first to take the lead before Isner secured an early break in the second. His forehand return at 3-2 shaved the line and was ruled a winner after a replay challenge, putting Isner two games from the set. He fired a 122-mph bullet down the middle for an ace that squared the match.
“I hit that great return to break,” Isner said. “I really think it’s the best return I’ve ever hit in my life. That kind of turned it around a little bit.”
Paul was two points from the match at 5-4 in the third before Isner grinded out a service hold to pull even. Isner controlled what felt like an inevitable tiebreaker, answering Paul on the ground and putting him under pressure with his serve. Paul’s wide forehand on match point sent Isner into a matchup with a player who signed with his alma mater over the winter.
“I could literally be his dad — that's insane to think about,” Isner said. “First and foremost, he’s a nice kid. I’ve gotten to know him a little bit; he's very nice. He keeps to himself.”
The first two semifinal tickets were punched on Thursday. It will be an all-French affair between No. 2 seed Adrian Mannarino and No. 3 seed Ugo Humbert after their results against a doubles partner and a former champion, respectively. Mannarino outlasted Jordan Thompson in three sets while Humbert dropped just six games and eased past 2021 winner Kevin Anderson.
On Twitter: @BillKoch25
This article originally appeared on The Providence Journal: Alex Michelsen, John Isner beat seeded players, advance in HOF tennis